Skyborne Technology is streaming a trail at both ends of the county.
Less than a year after opening its first U.S. facility in Wewahitchka, Skyborne, a designer and manufacturer of unmanned aviation systems, has expanded south to Costin Airport, where last week some drone tests were conducted.
In Wewahitchka, technically the Industrial Park off the upper Dalkeith Road, Skyborne is manufacturing an airship, or mothership, that while tethered to the ground will be capable of rising to at least 20,000 feet, said Skyborne CEO Mike Lawson.
Assisting in the design and construction of the airship, which should be completed this fall, is Monumental Fabrication out of Port St. Joe.
“We are trying our best to get the local economy involved with what we are doing,” Lawson said. “We are trying to address some of the community’s problems after Hurricane Michael and one of those is employment.”
Meanwhile, at Costin Airport last week, Lawson along with techs from Unmanned Systems, Inc., were conducting flight pattern tests with a drone.
This particular USI is the second that will take up residence in the county and work with unmanned systems.
Unmanned Safety Institute (also, naturally, USI), is under contract to provide the curriculum and instruction as Gulf District Schools launches a drone program this fall in the two high schools.
Unmanned Safety Institute will have its facility at the Gulf Coast State College Gulf/Franklin campus.
After earning safety certificates, Skyborne can take over.
“After (students) perfect the safety requirements we’ll take them from there all the way to the industry certification,” Lawson said. “It’s all about education, education, education.
“This is a one-stop shop. We’d like to show how you start young with kids and give them a vision of high school and college. We will be able to get them an industry certification out of high school or college.”
Unmanned Systems, to be noted, provided the technology behind the Predator drone of military fame; as a company tech put it, the company “Develops solutions; we do things you can’t buy off the shelf.”
They are about integrating software into airships and drones, he added.
“We are extremely excited to work with (Unmanned Systems),” Lawson said. “We are combining technologies … to integrate all systems that our guys, the smart guys, come with up as a solution.”
Those solutions span an almost unlimited spectrum, in the private, public and military sectors.
And the drones provide real-time information with an operator capable of making changes to the flight plan or tasks to be performed.
As an example of the advancement of technology, Lawson noted the loss of timber due to Hurricane Michael; given the systems Skyborne is working with a goal is not just being able to assess a forest, but “count the trees.”
“Tyndall (Air Force Base) has been very supportive of what we are doing,” Lawson said. “They are fascinated with what we are doing. They don’t want to hold us back.”
Skyborne has also partnered with Gulf Coast State College with an aim to developing an educational program for the vast array of uses for unmanned aircraft.
“It is just a tremendous opportunity for other economic drivers to come into the county,” said Al McCambry, Dean of the Gulf/Franklin campus, of the arrival of Skyborne and other unmanned systems companies.
The testing at Costin involved a single-wing drone, made of carbon fiber, about nine-feet wingtip-to-wingtip, weighing maybe 10 pounds and capable of flying 60-100 mph.
The testing involved programming the drone to adhere to flight plans and instructions to essentially map the airport property, instructions coming from a computer that could, in theory, have been located anywhere in the world, Lawson said.
“You have to perfect the lower altitudes before you can move higher,” Lawson said. “We’ve already had an airship up to near 20,000 feet, so we are working lower now to get to the higher altitudes.”
In simplest terms, the individual drones, six to eight, would be deployed within and then from the airship, which would be lifted to about 1,500 feet.
At that point, the drones could perform multiple tasks.
“The fixed-wings don’t burn as much energy and have a flight time duration of five or six hours,” Lawson said. “It can also be a low-cost alternative that a friendly foreign government might use for things like addressing bad guys.
“We can launch and recover anywhere in the world.”
Lawson and Skyborne have already entertained foreign officials at Costin Airport for demonstration of what the company is developing.