Friends in flight

Odegard School, GFAFB leaders hope to build on existing legacy of collaboration

Colonel Benjamin Spencer (right) from the Grand Forks Air Force Base flies a small UAS in the UAS Flight Testing Lab in Robin Hall as Associate Dean of UND Aerospace Beth Bjerke (middle) and Assistant Professor of Aviation Philip Brandt (left) watch. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Col. Benjamin Spencer (right), from the Grand Forks Air Force Base, flies a small UAS in the UAS Flight Testing Lab in Robin Hall as Associate Dean of UND Aerospace Beth Bjerke (middle) and Assistant Professor of Aviation Philip Brandt (left) watch. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

The new leaders of the Grand Forks Air Force (GFAFB) Base got a personal tour of UND’s John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences on Thursday (Aug. 3) in a first meeting between representatives of two of the region’s largest aviation hubs.

Paul Lindseth, dean of the Odegard School; and Beth Bjerke, associate dean, welcomed new GFAFB commander, Col. Benjamin Spencer, and the his top enlisted advisor, Chief Master Sgt. Brian Thomas, to UND for a nearly three-hour visit that included a walking tour of the Odegard School grounds on campus and at the Grand Forks Airport.

Lindseth and Bjerke gave a brief overview of the Odegard School’s history, its current operations, its past and present links to the GFAFB and how that relationship might grow stronger in the future.

Lindseth, who spent his early years in aviation as a U.S. Air Force instructor pilot, explained that the Odegard School’s current annual budget helps to maintain its traditional aviation operation, three other academic departments (Space Studies, Atmospheric Sciences and Earth System Science & Policy), and aviation technical training and human performance. When combined with the UND Aerospace Foundation, a privately held organization that supports the Odegard School, UND Aerospace comprises the headquarters campus at UND and satellite presences in Phoenix and Crookston, Minn.

As far as aviation activity, Lindseth told his Air Force guests that UND just completed a banner year with more than 135,000 flight training flight hours flown.

“That’s a record for us and we’re scheduled to do even more this year,” Lindseth said.

As part of their tour, Col. Spencer, who recently assumed command of the 319th Air Base Wing at GFAFB, and Chief Thomas visited the Odegard School’s Altitude Chamber, which allows UND student pilots to experience the effects of high-altitude flying without leaving the ground; the Space Studies Department, where actual Spacesuits are produced and a new state-of-art UAS Lab in Robin Hall, before heading out to the see the airport operations.

Col. Spencer and Chief Thomas were impressed with the effectiveness and efficiency of both the flight and maintenance operations of the Odegard School.

Colonel Benjamin Spencer, Chief Master Sergeant Brian Thomas, Paul Lindseth, Nick Flom

Col. Spencer (front left) and Chief Master Sergeant Brian Thomas (back left) are escorted by UND Aerospace Dean Paul Lindseth (middle) during a recent tour. Nick Flom (right), executive director of the Northern Plains Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, explains his team’s work. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Working together

Tapping into the Odegard School’s Air Force legacy, Bjerke informed the visitors that UND’s Space Studies degree program its start with the supporting personnel from the Grand Forks and Minot Air Force Bases.  In fact, more than 30 percent of the students in UND’s Master of Science in Space Studies program are Air Force students.

Even today, the Master of Science in Aviation degree with a focus on UAS studies, there’s great potential for Air Force students who want to further their career education at UND. The Odegard School recently became the first institution in the nation to receive accreditation for its UAS degree under new rules set forth by the Aviation Accreditation Board International, an example of the Odegard School “leading the way across the country,” according to Lindseth.

Bjerke also reminded the GFAFB leaders that, like the Air Force, the Odegard School is strongly advocating for ways to reverse the growing nationwide pilot shortage due to the “graying of the aviation industry.” Some of ideas could benefit people affiliated with the military wanting to study aviation at UND, such as changes to the way ROTC scholarships are designated. Other ideas include shortening the mandated training time at aviation programs such as UND.

Colonel Benjamin Spencer, Chief Master Sergeant Brian Thomas, Paul Lindseth, Beth Bjerke, Pablo de Leon

Col. Spencer and Chief Thomas (right) discuss research by UND Space Studies’ Pablo de León (far left) in de León spacesuit lab. Photo by Jackie Lorentz.

Busy traffic

GFAFB personnel routinely provide air traffic advisories and other crucial flight information to UND student pilots landing at the Grand Forks Airport. The GFAFB Radar and Approach Control (RAPCON) provide this service.

The amount of flight training activity generated by UND Aerospace student pilots has made the air space around the Grand Forks the 22nd busiest in the country, and the eighth busiest in the entire U.S. Air Force Air Traffic Control system, according to Spencer and Thomas.

Bjerke said the services provided by the GFAFB RAPCON is so valuable that Odegard School officials meet with their GFAFB counterparts monthly to touch base on how things are going and to see how they might be improved.

“We absolutely couldn’t do what we do without the support from the GFAFB RAPCON,” Bjerke said, “Hopefully, in the future, we and the Air Force Base can continue to do even more together.”