Over at Bye Aerospace, Inc., Founder George Bye and colleagues are designing drones. But don’t worry. The Denver, Colorado company, founded in 2007, isn’t the site of the next Evil Empire, and the drones which will eventually start going out the door (here or elsewhere, but not under their own power) are meant for peaceful occupations, including defense and security operations aimed at hardening borders, for example – a worthy cause given the recent incursions by Mexican drug cartels.
What other peaceful occupations, you might ask? For me, what immediately comes to mind are African elephants, whose herds have been thinned almost beyond breeding potential thanks to constant poaching by small groups of men illegally killing them for the ivory in their tusks.
Once the ivory is collected, from mature animals which would otherwise serve to teach, constrain, and lead the herd to safety, the rest of this amazing animal is often left to rot, even though malnutrition is ubiquitous across the continent. Nor is there any doubt that the culling is accomplished to the sights, sound and smells of terror and pain, with infants left to die when the herd is wiped out. In fact, with poaching figures rising about the same percent annually and threatening to reduce breeding populations by at least 25 percent over the next decade, experts are beginning to panic. According to Tom Milliken, an Ivory Trade expert and wildlife trade monitoring executive at TRAFFIC, “We’re hugely concerned.”
But perhaps less so now that drone technology has proven itself useful in guarding endangered animal species in Kenya. As Bye and team point out, their Global Range Solar/Electric Hybrid Surveillance Aerial Vehicle is low maintenance and high performance, delivering advantages that park rangers – no matter how well-intentioned – can’t.
Going by the name Silent Guardian, these solar-electric hybrid unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) beat out all the competition when it comes to surveillance. Unlike manned vehicles, this solar-powered craft can stay aloft almost indefinitely, almost anywhere around the globe, using the power of the sun and the science of solar photovoltaics (PV) to achieve what is known as ISR, or “persistent Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.”
Speaking from Bye Aerospace headquarters at Denver’s Centennial Airport, due south of the Family Sports Center Golf Course, George Bye is quick to note that the company is well-prepared to offer not only scalable aeronautical engineering consulting services, but to integrate those concepts with advanced technologies, notably clean energy.
For Bye, who has always been in the thick of aeronautics, his previous and lengthy experience as a former Air Force pilot (think Desert Storm), and his immersion in the industry for 40 years, signal the type of experience that can sort viable alternatives from pie-in-the-sky proposals. This is perhaps why the company’s flagship offering, Silent Guardian, goes one step further than the typical offering – high-altitude, long-range mission persistence – by promising to deliver global range mission persistence.
This ‘higher and longer’ offering is what Senior Vice President (Government Programs) Kerry Beresford describes as “the next evolution in aircraft design, offering a level of performance and capability that will re-define the typical ISR mission.”
And what is a typical ISR mission? Bye and Beresford see it expanding into a social safety net in the near future. Citing Hurricane Katrina as an example, Bye compares the actual use of P3 aircraft to the potential (future) use of Silent Guardian, which could have provided 24/7 monitoring of both Katrina’s movement and its effect in minute detail – a role the P3s were unable to fill since they had to be landed, refueled and provided a new pilot at regular intervals.
“We could have monitored Hurricane Katrina from a weather forecasting and detail of movement 24/7 operation instead of sending up P3s. Then, of course, taking Katrina to the next step, we have overhead the potential ability to locate survivors and resources, and use communications on drones to recover cell phone connectivity immediately.”
Katrina isn’t the only scenario to benefit from “persistent, global” flight ability. Besides wildlife and natural resource monitoring, these Silent Guardian prototyped drones – which can stay up for weeks, at 10 percent of the cost of typical solutions like Cessna or Piper Cub planes – will also accurately trace the location of piped resources like oil, gas and water, and measure suitability for wind turbines, for example, by recording and calibrating wind flow.
The same is true for mapping power lines, examining terrain for water resources, checking the moisture content of the soil in areas plagued by forest fires, and even monitoring such fires to predict the sort of anomalous windstorm that killed 19 firefighters in Arizona in the summer of 2013. And UAV’s can do this without the cost of an expensive airplane, fuel, a pilot, and continual maintenance.
The one clear advantage of drones in wildlife surveillance, according to Bye, is that poachers see there is no longer a place to hide. Where the Piper Cub must fly over a swathe and then turn back to keep the area under observation, or return to base for refueling, Silent Guardian can simply hover. Imagine how nerve-wracking that would be if you were planning to kill a bunch of wild animals for their tusks, fur, flesh or fat!
Taking advantage of its “crosswork”, which incorporates individuals from other companies like Boeing and United Launch Alliance, LLC (a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin), Bye and colleagues maintain a finger on the pulse of the aerospace industry. As Bye notes:
“The applications and missions for UAV aircraft appear to be growing as airborne persistence is enhanced. Silent Guardian is a unique hybrid platform to serve these growing mission requirements.”
But Bye Aerospace isn’t flying on one wing. Two other UAV programs with close ties to Bye Aerospace, Silent Falcon and Starlight Lighter than air Solar Electric UAV, are being designed to circumvent the fact that most UAVs are “defense oriented, mission specific and not well suited to civil use”.
Perhaps most important, Bye Aerospace is committed to providing scalable services ranging from product development to complete aircraft assembly. And it is this wide-ranging flexibility that promises aerospace innovations fit for the 21st Century.