AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp. manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles like this one. The California-based company started operations in Carroll earlier this month.
AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp. manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles like this one. The California-based company started operations in Carroll earlier this month.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012

AirCover Integrated Solutions Corp., a leading international unmanned aerial vehicle manufacturer, has officially opened assembly, sales and marketing operations in Carroll with plans for up to 20 employees by 2014 in the burgeoning high-tech industry.

The Redding, Calif., advanced research and development company specializes in surveillance drones and sensors for public safety, search-and-rescue missions and commercial applications. The company has a strong corporate footprint in the Cedar Rapids area. The Carroll facility opened Nov. 11, and AirCover soon expects to have five to 10 people working at the 20th Street location north of U.S. Highway 71.

AirCover’s Carroll-manufactured drones are not weaponized, and the company has no contracts with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Carroll’s geographic location and the prevailing Midwestern strong work ethic drew the interest of the veteran-owned firm — which the Carroll Area Development Corp., recruited to the city over the past year, AirCover officials said.

“The culture of Carroll, Iowa, really represents to us what makes America great,” said company president and CEO James Hill.

Hill, a U.S. Naval Reserve officer with extensive experience in the unmanned aerial vehicle arena, and the AirCover veteran team visited Carroll on numerous occasions and met with dozens of local leaders before deciding on the location. Hill said the diversity of Carroll’s business and industry base, as well as the presence of a foresighted plan for future development, attracted AirCover officials. There is local financial investment in AirCover.

“Carroll itself has been very careful to have a master plan that has been well thought out,” Hill said.

AirCover is already shipping product and intends to expand output as the Federal Aviation Administration advances guidelines for unmanned systems within the national airspace.

“We are committed to follow FAA’s maturing process which is key to everyone’s safety and proper use of unmanned systems in the national airspace,” Hill said.

Initially, AirCover will handle final assembly, fabrication, precision machining, testing and shipping in Carroll.

“Our plan is to expand Carroll operations with jobs in marketing, field services and customer support,” Hill said.

The company is seeking to hire military veterans and establish working hours in Carroll that allow stay-at-home parents flexibility to manage parenting and work roles. Susan Hill, the chairwoman of AirCover’s board, is an Iowa native and graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

The unmanned aerial vehicle market is now worth billions of dollars a year, The Associated Press reports. Hill says the market is growing at 14 percent annually.

“This is exciting news for Carroll,” said Carroll Area Development Corp. executive director Jim Gossett. “The product will save lives, the company will create good jobs, and the community will continue to attract innovative employers as a result of this project.”

Gossett led a team of four CADC members who worked closely with AirCover beginning in December 2011 on a plan for the Carroll development.

Additionally, U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, assisted with recruitment of AirCover to Carroll.

“This is a welcome announcement for the Carroll area — an effort that brings good jobs to rural Iowa,” Harkin told the Daily Times Herald Monday afternoon. “I commend everyone who made this expansion possible, which is proof of the good work that can develop from local, state and federal officials coming together.”

Founded in 2008, AirCover is currently involved in strategic collaboration with Lockheed Martin Skunk Works, the aeronautics Goliath’s Advanced Development Program arm created generations ago to build Allied fighter jets to compete against the Nazis. AirCover has secured contracts with U.S.-based public-safety organizations and the military.

The AirCover drones — about 2-1/2 feet by 2-1/2 feet and 3.7 pounds — are slightly larger than a seagull. The drones, managed from the ground by state-of-the-art computer systems, can climb 80 feet per second, or about four stories per second. They travel horizontally at 45 mph. The air ceilings depend on whether the UAVs are used for civilian or military application.

California public safety agencies already have used AirCover’s drones to successfully search for missing persons and conduct law-enforcement-surveillance missions crucial to protecting officers on the street.

“They address the dirty, dull and dangerous,” Hill said.

One major reason for AirCover’s selection of Carroll as a key location in its network is the presence of open space to make investments in commercial agriculture. Hill said AirCover sees development of commercial drones for “precision-agricultural” uses by farmers and ranchers around the world as a major part of the company’s business. AirCover has collaborated with some well-known American agricultural firms on such developments.

“The American farmer today produces about 40 percent of the world’s corn and is responsible for more than 23 million U.S. jobs,” Hill said. “With responsibilities like these, UAVs can play a part in helping the American farmer lower costs and increase productivity. Unless an expensive helicopter is hired, or a flyby photo with a plane is done, farmers have limitations in assessing their crops until it’s time for harvest.”