Greg Stewart holds one of the unmanned aircraft his company, Aurora Flight Sciences, produces. Stewart spoke Tuesday to the Columbus Rotary Club about the growing civilian use of unmanned aircraft. Photo by: Birney Imes/Dispatch Staff
June 25, 2014 11:00:25 AM
It's not often that Mississippi finds itself on the cutting edge.
More often than not, new ideas, technologies, fashions and fads seem to arrive here after a bit of a lag.
Cautious, conservative, suspicious of new things are descriptions that generally apply to our state.
There are exceptions, though. In fact, we have a wonderful example of that in our own back yard here in Lowndes County.
Tuesday, Greg Stewart spoke to the Columbus Rotary Club to give the membership a glimpse of what Aurora Flight Sciences is up to these days, which is to say, an awful lot.
By both training (He holds a degree in computer technology from Purdue University.) and natural interest (He regularly competes in model airplane and model rocket competitions in his free time.), Stewart is perfectly suited for his role as Director of Development at AFS.
Stewart spoke enthusiastically about his company's leading role in the development of unpiloted aircraft, more commonly known as drones. Aurora has developed or is developing three versions of this technology, which allows for a wide range of applications, both military/law enforcement (surveillance, reconnaissance) and commercial (agriculture, the prime example).
The models range from the Skate, an aircraft that weighs about two pounds and is roughly the size of a suitcase, to the 11,000-pound Orion, which can fly an incredible five days before refueling.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the work Aurora is doing is making the big next step toward fully functioning unpiloted aircraft. Stewart said that in as few as 20 years, we may be able to take an unpiloted air taxi to, say, the Coast.
In some respects, the concept is not much different from those radio-operated toy airplanes we played with as children. The difference, obviously, is that what Aurora is doing is making those aircraft intuitive. Tomorrow's unpiloted aircrafts can "think," you might say, making adjustments and changes that a human pilot makes today.
It is difficult to say what aviation will look like in the coming decades. We suspect whatever that future holds, it will be far different than what we know today.
It's fun to think about. And it's also fun to think that whatever that future holds, our friends and neighbors at Aurora Flight Science will have been in the thick of it.
Stewart pointed out that Aurora isn't alone in that respect. Other local companies such as Stark Aerospace and Airbus are charting new paths through the skies as well.
It's nice to be on the cutting edge, for a change.