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NM drones to prowl Canadian skies

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One of Silent Falcon\’s long-range drones. The Albuquerque company recently signed a deal with a Vancouver firm to monitor agriculture, natural gas and forestry operations throughout Canada. (Courtesy Silent Falcon)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque’s Silent Falcon solar-powered drone will soon monitor agriculture, natural gas and forestry operations throughout Canada under a new partnership with a Vancouver firm.

Silent Falcon UAS Technologies announced the deal this month with Precision Vector Aerial Inc. of British Columbia. That company will exclusively use the Silent Falcon for all its air monitoring services, expected to begin this summer. Precision Vector will also help Silent Falcon sell its systems throughout Canada.

That could put at least 10 Silent Falcon systems, and possibly many more, in Canadian skies within five years, said Precision President and CEO Lorne Borgal. Silent Falcon’s long-range and long-flight-endurance capabilities make it ideal for Precision’s ground teams to fly drones beyond line of sight, he said.

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“It is by far the most advanced and commercially viable unmanned aerial vehicle for (those) operations,” Borgal said. “Five hours airborne, 100-kilometer range, and the ability to map 6,000 acres in one flight symbolize what makes this a unique platform.”

The partnership could help blaze a new market for Silent Falcon in Canada and elsewhere because most commercial drones operating worldwide today are rotary-type craft made for short flights of less than one hour and up to three kilometers, said Silent Falcon CEO John Brown. As a result, using drones for things like surveying oil and gas pipelines, or monitoring crop health on farms of 2,000 acres and up, is only just beginning.

“It’s in those large, beyond-the-line-of-sight missions that we see the most opportunities, and that’s the market Precision Vector is focusing on,” Brown said. “That market is still very new.”

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An employee of Silent Falcon UAS Technologies works on plans for the company\’s drones. (Courtesy Silent Falcon)

The Silent Falcon is homegrown technology that Brown and Colorado company Bye Aerospace launched in Albuquerque in 2010. The solar-powered drone is made with light-weight carbon fiber and designed to carry a broad range of sensors. It’s equipped with state-of-the-art communications technology for networked, real-time monitoring from the ground.

“It’s not just an aircraft, but an integral system to collect many kinds of data, from video and photos to hyperspectral imaging,” Brown said.

The company assembles the drones at a 5,000-square-foot facility in Albuquerque’s Southeast Heights. It’s targeting foreign markets now because Federal Aviation Administration regulations don’t yet permit commercial drones to fly beyond the line of sight in the U.S.

The company earned about $1 million in revenue annually in the last two years, but it now has nearly $20 million in new contracts in the pipeline, Brown said.

Precision Vector flew a demonstration flight for an Alberta gas pipeline company last year.

“The company had flown four other unmanned systems, but only the Silent Falcon was able to detect gas leaks,” Borgal said. “It’s the best UAV platform I could find for our operations.”

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