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NM’s Silent Falcon to provide eyes on forest fires

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Silent Falcon’s solar-powered drones will soon provide firefighters with a bird’s eye view of raging blazes nationwide.

The Albuquerque company is part of a new, first-ever U.S. Department of Interior contract for air support service companies to dispatch unmanned aerial systems as needed to wildfires in all 50 U.S. states. The five-year, $17 million “Call When Needed” contract will employ four U.S. firms on a 24/7, on-call basis.

One of the companies, Montana-based Bridger Aerospace, has subcontracted Silent Falcon to provide its system whenever Bridger is called on by the feds, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown. The partnership with Bridger could mean about $1 million in new, recurring annual revenue for Silent Falcon, which launched in 2010.

“We are extremely fortunate to partner with Bridger Aerospace in this first-of-its-kind UAS services contract,” Brown said. “This is an exceptional application for the technology embedded in the Silent Falcon.”

That homegrown technology includes a solar-powered, compact craft built to stay aloft for up to five hours with a 100 kilometer flying range. It can be rapidly armed with infrared cameras and other sensors for real-time surveillance and imaging in difficult circumstances.

Under the federal contract, the Silent Falcon will fly above tankers and other craft to direct traffic from up high.

“The payloads we carry can look through smoke and identify hotspots quickly,” Brown said.

The Interior Department announced the contract in late May, allowing commercial companies for the first time to fully operate and maintain drones in wildland fire operations, search and rescue, emergency management and other missions. Until now, only small, rotor-like craft have been used.

“It’s a big deal for us and the industry,” Brown said. “It’s kind of a ground-breaking development, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Until recently, Silent Falcon only focused on selling its system, but it’s now building company-owned UAS to provide services to others. Next month, it will begin inspecting some 2,600 wells for an oil company.

Silent Falcon has earned about $1 million in annual revenue in recent years. This year, it expects to climb above $3 million, thanks in part to the new service contracts.

Over the summer, it will move from a 5,000-square-foot facility in the Southeast Heights to a 6,000-square-foot building in the north I-25 industrial corridor.

It employs 12 people in Albuquerque, plus contract personnel elsewhere. It expects to hire at least four more people this year.

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