“UAV is such a large industry and it’s just going to get bigger."
Most flight industry professionals worry about wind speeds before take off, but fewer problems arise when there’s no one aboard the craft.
“We’ve flown in upwards of 50 mile-per-hour winds without a problem,” said John Ferguson, owner of Saxon Remote Systems in McPherson. The company opened its doors to the public on Monday as part of Manufacturing Day, organized by the McPherson Chamber of Commerce and McPherson Industrial Development Corporation.
Saxon Remote Systems, previously Skynet Unmanned Aerial Services, is located at 880 Vanguard St. in McPherson. The company manufactures and provides unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, services. The aircraft use a number of cameras to spot crop issues, heat or cool temperature leaks or even assist law enforcement.
“This location is more of a lab than a manufacturing plant. We manufacture everything off-site and here, we integrate cameras, sensors and other small, technical equipment the customer needs,” Ferguson said. “This type of business could be located anywhere to be successful, but I chose to stay in McPherson. This is where my family is and McPherson feels like family. We’ve been here 20 years and we have lots of support from the community.”
Since Ferguson sold his motorcycle to purchase UAV parts three years ago, the company has grown exponentially to the international presence it has today. In coming weeks, Saxon plans to meet with South American officials to discuss methods of spotting and halting cross-border drug crimes.
“UAV is such a large industry and it’s just going to get bigger. The industry is currently worth about $80 billion and globally, it will grow even more,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson and his employees moved to the Vanguard location recently and are still growing in to the new space. In November, the company will implement more security procedures to protect sensitive equipment and information.
These UAVs are primarily used in the agricultural and industrial inspection industries.
“We can fly over the refinery to check the equipment so they don’t have to shut down or risk having someone crawl across the catwalks,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson explained that the UAVs he uses have a number of safety procedures, including a setting where the aircraft will pause in flight if it flies out of the user’s line of sight, and can return to its launch site automatically for the user to retrieve it or wait for the user to regain sight of the craft.
Saxon produces the two most common types of UAVs— multi-rotor or fixed wing — which can be used in a variety of industries.
“We provide for anyone looking to acquire a UAV — police, search and rescue, even farmers. Most UAVs here can fly up to 1,000 feet up and 100 miles out, but we only fly to 400 feet up and within line of sight to keep with FAA regulations,” Ferguson said. “The FAA needs to control the industry because anyone can buy a $1,000 drone, so they need to make sure only honest pilots are the ones flying. They know the technology is safe because it’s proved itself, so they’re really regulating you as the pilot.”
Individuals wishing to fly drones need to acquire a remote pilot certification. The process is simple for current pilots, as many aspects are the same, and new remote pilots can get the certification by logging flight hours with an inexpensive UAV and taking a short course with an FAA-certified instructor.
“I start out a few of our customers on these foam UAVs because I’d rather they learn the basics on a cheap RC plane than crash their expensive UAV on the first try,” Ferguson said.