I have been working for the past 6 1/2 years at a job were I have had the honor of being surrounded by a close knit team of bright passionate engineers, both young and old, who have an amazing degree of talent. The project was started by a wise old engineer who had an idea for how to make a leap forward in technology and a goal to use that idea to accomplish something more. He created a company to bring that idea into fruition as a way to teach the next generation of engineers how to become true engineers that can forge their ideas into reality and to make things that never were.
He had been in the industry all his life and when he looked at the current state of things, he felt that something had been lost. A large percentage of engineers didn't actually know how to build things and the things they built weren't particularly impressive. And many of those engineers didn't even believe that they had the power to build something that could change the world.
He gathered some of the more knowledgeable people in fields that he thought necessary and hired a fresh batch of kids right out of college. He provided the tools and the resources and then said, "Build it." They had no idea how, but they gave it their best shot. He and the other older engineers worked with them and provided advice and experience and when they got something working, he said, "You can do better" and they did. Blank pieces of paper became drawings. The drawings became models. The models became prototypes. The prototypes became aircraft and the aircraft flew. Not only did the aircraft fly, it flew for longer than any other aircraft of its type had flown in the history of mankind.
Each engineer he hired was given a responsibility. Almost all of those responsibilities were crucial to the success of the project. He showed us what can happen when you surround yourself with exceptional people that are motivated do great things. It wasn't perfect. Things weren't always fun, but he taught us how to do real engineering and to realize that it was possible. He taught us how to take risks and how to deal with both failures and successes. The point was not just how to build an aircraft. It was how to build something that you think is important, whatever that may be and not to just do something that is as good as what is already out there, but how do it better. A number of years ago the owner of that company sold it to a larger company that had the resources to take the program to the next level. Some of my co-workers have gone on to other things some and some are still with us, but most of them look at the possibilities differently then they did before.
I have been building a full sized autonomous helicopter. The idea the founder of that company came up with is how to build a helicopter rotor that is more efficient than anything else out there. Not by a little, but by a lot. That means that our rotorcraft can fly longer and use less fuel then other rotorcraft, among other things. He chose to make it unmanned, so that we could develop it without putting peoples lives at risk. This allowed us to build it faster and more aggressively than we would have otherwise been able to do. Not everything we attempted worked, but what did and what we learned really amazes me. And I hope the helicopters in general will be able to fly longer and farther and have more capabilities than they did before we started this project.
On May 15th, we broke the world record for how long a helicopter can fly without landing or refueling. We took off the night before and landed many hours later the following day. The last 5-6 years I have been building a system that is central to this helicopter's operation, we all have, and with all the others' contributions and my own, we made something better than there was before. Finally proving that it worked and that it worked like we said it would was simply amazing. I'm thankful that I have been apart of this experience. We are not finished. There are still many things to do, but we have proved that what we have been building is real and proved to ourselves that we have the power to build it.
- Steve Dunn
May 19, 2008