American veteran and inventor Bill Fredericks recently developed a prototype for an American-made drone that would increase flight time six fold. He and his team at Advanced Aircraft Company are currently working on the transition from prototype to finished product.
In this 2019 interview, Bill discusses the transition process and the current state of the aerospace industry.
Jason Blount: How many years have you been working at this?
Bill Fredericks: About three years. I left my position at NASA two years ago this month and I started the company a year before that. I was doing some part-time work at NASA trying to get some initial capital raised.
Jason: What did you do when you were with NASA?
Bill: I did a co-op with NASA while I was studying at Purdue. After that, I continued to work with NASA for a total of 14 years. I was in the aircraft design branch and led the Grease Lightning project through its flight test phase.
Jason: So, what is it that you’re doing exactly?
Bill: Right now, we’re working on the transition from prototype to low-rate production. That’s the challenge we’re addressing now.
Jason: Have you secured contracts with NASA or any private companies?
Bill: No, I have a number of customers that are very interested, but they want to see the aircraft in action before they write a check.
Jason: How close are you to having a finished production model?
Bill: I think this Summer we’ll have first delivery of our aircraft to a customer.
Jason: Where are you building the drones?
Bill: Virginia. Right now, we’re still a very small team. It’s three employees and myself full-time. I’ve also got a few other people helping part-time.
Jason: Where are you sourcing your parts from?
Bill: They’re from everywhere. The electric motors are from China. Nobody can beat the Chinese for electric motors on drones. Our propulsion system is from Canada, the carbon fiber and ???? is made by a friend of mine in Rhode Island. The aluminum tubing is based in the USA. We’re doing all of the assembly, integration, and the flight testing for quality control here in the U.S. an then delivering it to the customer. A lot of our customers are actually international, so that would also be helping our GDP by exporting product and technology.
Jason: How did you shorten flight time so drastically?
Bill: It’s the hybrid electric propulsion system. There’s a gas engine that spins the generator to produce electricity, while parallel are smaller battery packs. That electrical power is then sent out to the six motors to power the six propellers. So, the magic is in the propulsion. It’s basically a flying hybrid car.
Jason: What is the max payload that it can handle?
Bill: The useful load, which is the sum of fuel plus payload, has to be less than 9 pounds. So it depends. You could put in more fuel and less payload to travel farther or more payload and less fuel to carry a larger amount a shorter distance. A median data point would be four pounds of payload gets you nearly two hours of flight time.
Jason: What are your initial leads that your customers are looking to use it for?
Bill: It’s a wide range. Surveying and mapping, to collect data more efficiently for topography. Infrastructure inspection in the oil and gas industry to go down and inspect oil wells and oil rigs without worrying about the battery dying. I think delivery will be the biggest market that will be affected, but there are a lot of regulations in populated areas against drones, so it may be a while before that happens. It would be great for police and fire organizations, but their pockets aren’t quite deep enough to afford it. It’s ironic because quite often, an entire manned helicopter is used when a drone could be used for much cheaper.
Jason: How long do you think it will take for the drones to be used for package delivery?
Bill: In urban areas, it’s at least five years away. There are still a lot of regulations against drones in urban areas that regulate how low they can fly and where. Another issue is how the drones and manned aircrafts will avoid each other in the air because there hasn’t been technology created yet for that problem. It’s an easy solution, but we just haven’t gotten there yet. Aircraft technology actually hasn’t changed much at all since the 1970’s and the FAA doesn’t make it very easy for us to change that, but hopefully we can make it happen.
To learn more, visit https://www.advancedaircraftcompany.com/.