In aviation, big jets get all the glory, but Tad McGeer’s development of lightweight, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) demonstrates not only that good things can arrive in small packages, but that they can do so safely and, if his latest project succeeds, economically and reliably. McGeer’s work with the In-Situ Group dramatically advanced the state of UAVs in the 1990s and led to the U.S. military’s use of them in Iraq and Afghanistan. McGeer founded his most recent company, Aerovel Corp., in 2006 and its reputation is soaring on the debut this year of the Flexrotor, the next generation in UAV design, which flew successfully for the first time in September.
McGeer sees the Flexrotor as an ideal candidate for civilian applications. “It’s nice when these aircraft are used for the general good, such as weather reconnaissance or geological surveying,” says McGeer. Weighing 40 pounds with a 10-foot wingspan, the Flexrotor can fly nearly 2,500 miles at altitudes of 20,000 to 25,000 feet—on only 3 gallons of fuel. Its most remarkable feature may be its vertical takeoff and landing capability, meaning it could launch from and return to previously inaccessible areas, such as a small boat in rough conditions far out at sea. McGeer hopes to have the Flexrotor in service by 2012. Until then, he says, “We have our hands full.”
Published November 2010
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