Dayton got mentioned in National Geographic magazine- more specifically, UA Vision- a company part owned by Mark Herres (the guy the city kneecapped on the UPS/Emery deal).
If the FAA relaxes its rules, says Mark Brown, the civilian market for drones—and especially small, low-cost, tactical drones—could soon dwarf military sales, which in 2011 totaled more than three billion dollars. Brown, a former astronaut who is now an aerospace consultant in Dayton, Ohio, helps bring drone manufacturers and potential customers together. The success of military UAVs, he contends, has created “an appetite for more, more, more!” Brown’s PowerPoint presentation is called “On the Threshold of a Dream.”
Dreaming in Dayton
Drone fever is especially palpable in Dayton, cradle of American aviation, home of the Wright brothers and of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Even before the recent recession, Dayton was struggling. Over the past decade several large companies, including General Motors, have shut down operations here. But Dayton’s airport is lined with advertisements for aerospace companies; an ad for the Predator Mission Aircrew Training System shows two men in flight suits staring stoically at a battery of computer monitors. The city is dotted with drone entrepreneurs. “This is one of the few new industries with a chance to grow rapidly,” Brown says.
One of those entrepreneurs is Donald Smith, a bearish former Navy aircraft technician with ginger hair and a goatee. His firm, UA Vision, manufactures a delta-wing drone called the Spear. Made of polystyrene foam wrapped in woven carbon fiber or other fabrics, the Spear comes in several sizes; the smallest has a four-foot wingspan and weighs less than four pounds. It resembles a toy B-1 bomber. Smith sees it being used to keep track of pets, livestock, wildlife, even Alzheimer’s patients—anything or anyone equipped with radio-frequency identification tags that can be read remotely.
In the street outside the UA Vision factory a co-worker tosses the drone into the air, and Smith takes control of it with a handheld device. The drone swoops up and almost out of sight, plummets, corkscrews, loops the loop, skims a deserted lot across the street, arcs back up, and then slows down until it seems to hover, motionless, above us. Smith grins at me. “This plane is fully aerobatic,” he says.
A few miles away at Wright-Patterson stands the Air Force Institute of Technology, a center of military drone research. A bronze statue of a bedraggled winged man, Icarus, adorns the entrance—a symbol both of aviation daring and of catastrophic navigation error. In one of the labs John Raquet, a balding, bespectacled civilian, is designing new navigation systems for drones.
Like it or not, there will be drones watching us in our future. I’m not sure I like them as part of a surveillance society, but the use that Mark and Donald are doing with disaster relief is admirable and useful.