This article was originally published in Northwest Aerospace News Magazine by Patrick Sherman on May 25, 2021.
Most drone companies are established in hopes of meeting a global mandate: increasing agricultural yields or delivering a product to a customer within 30 minutes of an order being placed. However, Volansi took the road less traveled, and that may make all the difference.
Company CEO and CO-Founder Hannan Parvizian realized that drones had the potential to overcome a singular challenge facing Tesla, the powerhouse electric car manufacturer led by Elon Musk. Parvizian recalled, “I determined that someone could solve B2B delivery challenges with emerging drone technologies, which could drastically improve Tesla’s ability to serve its customers and drive supply chain efficiencies.”
In 2015, he established Volansi with Co-Founder Wesley Zheng in Concord, California, just east of the San Francisco Bay and only about 45 miles – as the drone flies – from Tesla’s world headquarters in Palo Alto. Since then, the company has raised tens of millions of dollars in financing, won numerous awards and has drawn the interest of the United State Air Force as well as other branches of the military.
In November 2020, the company established a new base of operations in Bend, Oregon. Nearly a quarter of the company’s 100 full-time employees are based in the central Oregon city – and the company’s VP of Production and Maintenance, Ahmad Ziada, expects that will double by the end of the year.
“At this location, we are focusing on manufacturing, engineering, flight operations and testing,” he said. “We are steadily growing and recruiting qualified team members, especially local talent. Bend has deep industrial roots, exhibits an impressive local and regional supply chain, a rich talent pool and the weather couldn’t be more perfect for flying and testing our aircraft.”
Volansi’s base airframe configuration is a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capable fixed-wing platform. Its VOLY C10 Series aircraft employ an all-electric propulsion system, including a pusher prop for forward flight and an integrated multirotor vertical lift system. With a payload capacity of 10 pounds, these aircraft have a 40-mile range and a cruising speed between 50 and 60 mph. The gross take-off weight is 55 pounds.
The company sees applications for these aircraft in the construction, oil and gas, mining and healthcare industries. In 2018, its aircraft were deployed to Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to transport temperature-controlled vaccines developed by pharmaceutical giant Merck.
The most recent addition to the company’s fleet is the VOLY M20 Series, developed for defense applications. While still using the same basic aircraft configuration, the VOLY M20 Series swaps out the electric motor driving the pusher prop for an internal combustion engine. It can fly for eight hours at 75 mph, giving it an effective range of 350 miles.
A unique innovation of the VOLY M20 Series is its ability to transport a 20-pound payload across the battlefield, such as medical supplies, parts and tools, as well as providing a perch for a 10-pound intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) system – allowing the aircraft to serve double duty in missions.
According to Parvizian, “The VOLY M20 Series was designed with modularity and mission flexibility in mind. The user experience is a key pillar of this design. We incorporated all the feedback we received from our customers on the need for an easy-to-use, maintain and operate aircraft that is capable of operating on both land and at sea.”
The company’s new location in central Oregon is crucial for the company to attract and recruit the top talent it needs to continue innovating on behalf of both its civilian and military customers.
“We have found Bend to be extremely welcoming and a great location in many ways. From an employee perspective, this is a great location for outdoor adventures that offers easy access to everything you need,” said Ziada.
He has lived in the Northwest for 28 years and is excited to bring his unmanned expertise to Volansi. With the company establishing a major presence in the Pacific Northwest, he joined the Cascade Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI).
According to Ziada: “The AUVSI Chapter not only provides access to some of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, but the friendships and partnerships that grow within the organization are exceptionally valuable. The members support one another and create a collaborative environment to share resources, contacts and industry knowledge. It’s a great organization.”