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Wildflower testing drone skills at Pojoaque

Solar-powered drones will soon help Pojoaque Pueblo monitor its vast land holdings from the sky.

Under a new partnership with Santa Fe-based Wildflower International, unmanned aerial systems made by Albuquerque-based Silent Falcon UAS Technologies will assist the pueblo in managing its roaming herd of wild bison, map cultural sites on Pojoaque land, and improve fire control and search-and-rescue efforts.

The flights will begin in January, providing Wildflower fertile terrain to train its newly-formed UAS flight team in preparation for the firm’s strategic pivot into the rapidly growing market for unmanned aerial services. It’s a completely new business for Wildflower, a 27-year-old information technology firm that Kimberly deCastro built into a thriving company with more than 83 employees.

“UAS operations are opening a lot more doors for us,” deCastro said. “It’s an emerging market that we’re investing heavily in.”

Since launching in 1991, Wildflower has relied almost exclusively on federal contracts for IT products and services to grow its business. But with profit margins steadily declining given the rise of the cloud and plummeting costs for IT systems and services, Wildflower turned to the heavens to build a new data-service in the sky.

“The IT market is incredibly saturated and competitive,” deCastro said. “We need to look down the road at new technologies to grow.”

To do that, Wildflower partnered early this year with Silent Falcon, which equips its solar-powered drones with infrared cameras and other sensors for real-time surveillance and imaging. It sells the system to public and private entities worldwide, but it’s now moving into service-based contracts to operate its system for customers.

It wants to break into federal contracting, something Wildflower is good at, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown.

“They know the ins and outs of federal contracts, which is something we’re light on, so we teamed up with them,” Brown said.

Wildflower already scored its first UAS contract to provide services with Silent Falcon drones to Homeland Security starting in April. But to to that, Wildflower’s new six-member flight team needs to train up in real-world terrain, which the Pojoaque partnership provides.

“We need to be accurate and safe and deliver the right data set to our customers,” deCastro said. “We need experience so when we fly for agencies it looks like the Air Force just showed up.”

Wildflower purchased two Silent Falcons, which it will fly at Pojoaque. Apart from monitoring services, it will also train pueblo members for UAS careers, something particularly appealing to Pojoaque Governor Joseph Talachy.

“To be successful tomorrow, the members of the pueblo need to gain the skills for the jobs of tomorrow,” Talachy said in a statement. “There seems to be no doubt that unmanned aircraft is a technology that has huge growth potential.”

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