Aerovel Corporation, led by Dr. Tad McGeer, develops the Flexrotor unmanned aerial system from our base in Washington State’s Columbia Gorge. We are small, focused, and experienced; staffed by veterans who developed the Aerosonde and ScanEagle aircraft series.
Tad McGeer, Aerovel’s founder and president, trained as an aeronautical engineer at Princeton and Stanford, and then joined the new Engineering Science faculty at Simon Fraser University in his native British Columbia. There he developed the concept of passive dynamic walking, which went on to be adopted as a paradigm for study of human locomotion and design of legged robots. In 1990 he returned to aeronautics, joining a Virginia start-up, Aurora Flight Sciences, as chief scientist. He headed early design studies on the Perseus and Theseus unmanned research aircraft, and then proposed the Aerosonde concept for long-range weather reconnaissance. This led to founding of The Insitu Group, beginning in a Silicon Valley garage in 1992, and moving to the Columbia River Gorge in 1994. Insitu pioneered development of miniature robotic aircraft in worldwide trials, with Aerosondes making the first unmanned Atlantic crossing (1998), first unmanned typhoon reconnaissance (2001), and first eye penetrations into tropical cyclones (2005).
In 2000, Dr. McGeer began design of the SeaScan/ScanEagle miniature aircraft for long-endurance imaging reconnaissance. SeaScan made the longest-ever flight for a ship-based aircraft in 2004, while the GeoRanger variant made the first unmanned geomagnetic surveys, and the ScanEagle military variant was adopted by the US Marines and Navy. Dr. McGeer directed all of Insitu’s engineering throughout this period, with particular responsibility for conceptual and configuration design, performance, dynamics and control, avionics, algorithms, simulation, and onboard and ground software. By the time that Dr. McGeer left Insitu in 2005, the company had more than 100 employees and more than $20M/year in revenue, with recognition as one of the fastest-growing technology firms in Washington state. The company went on to be bought by Boeing in 2008 for a reported $400M. Dr. McGeer joined with his Stanford classmate and Insitu co-founder Andy von Flotow to start Aerovel in 2006, in which he is president and chief engineer.
He has served on the FAA’s rulemaking committee for small unmanned aircraft systems and is currently an affiliate faculty member in Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Washington, a director of Washington State’s Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation, and founder and committee chair for the W Prize.
Andy von Flotow, Aerovel’s co-founder and chairman, studied engineering science and aeronautics at the University of Toronto, and then at Stanford, where he and Dr. McGeer were classmates. During his career he has been by turns a skydiver, hang-glider pilot, windsurfer, blue-water sailor, orchardist, academic, and high-tech entrepreneur. He did post-doctoral work on space-tether dynamics at Stanford and DVFLR Oberpfaffenhofen, and then joined the Aeronautics & Astronautics faculty at MIT. He served six years in Cambridge as professor of dynamics, control, and ruthless approximation, and moved to the Columbia Gorge to found Hood Technology in 1993. Under his leadership Hood Tech has developed a diverse range of activities in aerospace and industrial dynamics, and its work on imaging systems and catapults for Insitu’s ScanEagle has put the firm at the forefront of the industry. Dr. von Flotow was founding chairman and board member at Insitu for more than a decade, and serves also as affiliate professor of Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Washington.
Michael Baxter has led product development and manufacturing operations for three different companies, two of which he founded, and later navigated through successful exit events. His technical expertise is focused on integrating mechanical design, embedded electronics, and manufacturing systems to deliver products that set new standards in their market spaces. A few products Michael has had complete responsibility developing include the world’s first computer controlled NEMA Type B power outlet, a solar powered remotely controllable military-grade electric fence charger, and a polarity-correcting automotive jump starting system. He has worked with national standards setting organizations as well as intellectual property and transaction legal teams to establish and protect business opportunities. Michael holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering from Brigham Young University as well as an MBA from the Marriott School at Brigham Young University. He is passionate about aviation, holds a private pilot certificate, and is nearing completion of an RV-7A aircraft.
Chris Balogh works in Embedded Software and as an Electronics Design Engineer.
He completed concurrent bachelor’s degrees in computer science and software at Oregon Institute of Technology. Chris then worked in Seattle for several years on after-market avionics for airliners and Bizjets. He came to the Gorge for Insitu and the great outdoors, and in due course joined Aerovel as an avionics engineer. He also serves as part-time R/C test pilot and photographer-in-chief.
Kris Gauksheim earned a BS in engineering sciences at Harvard, with a focus on electrical engineering and computer science. He joined Insitu in the midst of the SeaScan/ScanEagle program, where he worked closely with Dr. McGeer as a software developer, aircraft operator, and flight instructor on land and at sea. He was instrumental in developing ScanEagle’s differential-GPS technique for autonomous SkyHook retrieval (U.S. Patent 6,961,018 B2). Kris joined Aerovel on Day 1, and works on next-generation ground and onboard software for robotic vehicles, and flight testing. He is a PhD Candidate in the University of Washington’s William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics. Kris is our Senior Engineer at Aerovel.
Robert Andrews is a composites technician responsible for development, fabrication, and assembly of Flexrotor. His early interest in building model aircraft led him to learn and experiment with epoxy, carbon fiber and aramid fabrics, incorporating them into his designs. Robert has made a living building large racing sailboats, catamarans, and kayaks. More recently he has been involved in designing and operating multicopters including participating in the development of open-sourced autopilot systems. He is an avid surfer who has built a reputation designing and building custom epoxy surfboards out of his shop near Pacific City. After a decade on the Oregon coast, he and his wife relocated to the Columbia River Gorge.
Mike Cato earned an AAS in Electronics Engineering Technology in 1997 from ITT Technical Institute in Seattle. Upon receiving his degree, he went to work for Micron Technology Inc. as an Equipment Support Technician maintaining multimillion dollar DRAM testers. In 2007 Mike moved to the Columbia Gorge to work for Sagetech Corporation and quickly became a key asset to the team that created the world smallest transponder through his high quality soldering and prototyping work. In 2015 Mike joined Aerovel and brings a wealth of technical skill, knowledge, and dedication.
Aaron Camp earned a BS in electrical engineering with an emphasis in embedded systems from the University of Washington in 2007. He then joined Sagetech’s engineering team to support Insitu projects and design new products for both the manned and unmanned aviation market. His roles varied from design engineer to engineering manager during his six years at Sagetech. In 2013, he developed a water resistant wireless data logger for the investment casting industry as an independent contractor. Some past projects he has been involved with include a Miniature Mode S transponder, ADS-B receiver with AHRS, wireless data logger, fuselage power board, and a fuel injector board. Aaron joined Aerovel in 2014 as an electrical engineer.
Born in the Netherlands, Rutger Engbertson developed an interest in composites early on and built his first windsurf board at the age of 15. After completing lab technician school, he worked for several windsurf board companies in the Netherlands, Maui, and Hood River. During this time, he worked on custom one design pieces as well as building molds to make production pieces. Rutger ran his own business during 1998-2004, building custom carbon fiber windsurf boards. He then worked at Max Carver, helping to build and design parts for a variety of products, including strollers, sailboat accessories, and ScanEagle parts. Rutger joined Aerovel 3 years ago and is responsible for designing and manufacturing composite parts. Rutger has a wife of 27 year and two children (Junior in HS and Freshman in college).
Nat Wells began developing his mechanical and craftsmanship skills as a teenager while building his own custom kayaks, experimenting with different construction methods and new materials to improve their performance. He later moved to the Columbia Gorge for its beauty and famous winds, where he worked in the windsurfing industry building premium sails and equipment. Nat then spent 10 years in the composites industry, building UAV components as well as other high performance structures for camera systems and other applications. His interests include bicycling, flying (both powered and non-powered), and motorcycling.
"We saw early on that Flexrotor’s combination of small footprint and long endurance put it in a class by itself. We’ve used it for shipboard reconnaissance, in the high Arctic and on the high seas, which just wouldn’t be practical with any other aircraft. Now we’re setting a new standard in the high desert. We show up with a few boxes and a couple of guys, ready to operate for months on end. It’s hot and it’s high, with density altitude usually over 6000 ft through the summer, and we fly night after night, all night, getting imagery to our customer which can’t be obtained any other way."
UAS Operations Director
Precision Integrated Programs