John Ferguson has big plans for unmanned aircraft.

John Ferguson has big plans for unmanned aircraft.
Though the Federal Aviation Administration won’t release its guidelines for commercial drones until at least September 2015, businesses already are looking at how to integrate them into their service models. Amazon, for example, hopes to deliver packages by drone, and some photographers use drone-mounted cameras to take pictures at weddings.
Ferguson, however, said he is looking at a larger market.
Ferguson, a McPherson native and businessman, is no stranger to unmanned vehicles. He specializes in remote technology and already uses submersible vehicles to perform work and inspections.
He said his goal with unmanned aircraft is to expand industry and bring jobs to McPherson County.
“I work with people from all over the world, and I love coming back to McPherson,” Ferguson said. “This community is my oasis. No matter where I’ve gone or how horrible the environment there is, I look forward to coming home.”
Using the same kind of technology used by Discovery Channel, History Channel and Hollywood, Ferguson hopes to provide a wide range of services from an airborne vantage point.
“You can take a drone and look for pipeline leaks,” Ferguson said. “You can go to an industrial complex or a home and fly around and find out where the hot and cold air is leaking. That’ll help you improve efficiency.”
Ferguson’s unmanned aircraft operate entirely by remote control. He can program a drone’s flight path, altitude, heading and speed, and the craft will carry out its mission before returning home on its own.
A copilot controls camera mounted to the unit, which sends live high-definition video back to the controllers. The unit has a variety of settings, such as thermal imaging, night vision, orthographic projection and lidar, a process that uses light to create high-resolution maps and other services.
“No matter what the craft does, that image stays steady,” Ferguson said. “I wanted to get the top system because I don't do anything halfway. I want clients to have the best image possible.”
Because the FAA has yet to publish rules for the commercial use of drones, Ferguson and other businesses cannot charge for drone service. However, consulting and data editing costs still apply.
Ferguson’s unmanned aircraft services will operate under the name SkyNet as a subsidiary of OceanTech Services. Ferguson said he hopes to hire 10 pilots in the next 6 to 8 months, depending on the market.
These pilots will be trained to follow the standards and procedures for unmanned aircraft as well as their clients. For example, if a drone will be used to inspect a pipeline, the flight also will include all relevant standards and guidelines for the oil and gas industry.
“The most important factor for me is maintaining high standards and delivering the best product I can,” Ferguson said.
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