Gene Payson took Sarasota-based Troy Built Models from a company that sold radio-controlled airplanes for hobbyists to one that customizes unmanned aerial vehicles (better known as drones) for commercial applications. He brought the company to Sarasota from Michigan in 2002 and now has 15 employees. Payson also is a civilian contractor for the Air Force. “I fly their drones every couple of months for the group that develops the newest sensors that detect roadside bombs overseas,” he says.
“Our customers use drones mainly for inspections. Oil refineries use them to look inside their flare stacks. Power companies monitor their transmission towers and poles for corrosion and lightning damage. Transportation departments inspect bridges and survey roads. Farmers use drones to fly over fields and determine if their plants are stressed.”
“Crystal Cruises wants customers to be able to fly a drone and see whales and glaciers in the ocean where there are no FAA jurisdictions. They’ll have a certified [drone] pilot on board who will help guests zoom, pan and tilt the camera system. We are assembling the [drone] for their needs.”
“People think it’s easy to fly a drone, but it’s not. They wind up hiring outside companies. My company is going to do that as soon as we get authorization from the FAA.”
BRAVE NEW WORLD
“The FAA really doesn’t have any drone regulations at the moment; they’re all considered a manned airplane. You need a pilot’s license and current medical, and you have to go through an exemption process to get your drone airworthy. We’re on the leading edge of all this.”