Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Johnathan Leppert

Title at Volansi: Director of Software Engineering

Joined the team: 2019

Team member #35

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I’ve been working in software for more than 15 years. I specialize in early-stage startups, taking ideas from the concept stage through to production systems, along the way building out high-performing software teams. I have worked on large-scale business and consumer data-driven applications, working everywhere from single-person startups to large enterprises. Over the past five years, I’ve worked in the drone industry at companies such as Airware, Kespry, and Fimratek primarily building analytical mapping applications for the mining, construction, and insurance industries. Now I am at Volansi working on bringing drone-based delivery and logistics accessible to a wider audience. I am passionate about the applications of drone technology and making complex technology easy and safe to use for end-users.

Starting in my early teen years, I began building and flying model fixed-wing and rotor aircraft, mostly R/C helicopters. I was known around the neighborhood as the crazy kid with the gas-powered helicopter. Years later, after I moved to the Bay area, I eventually would get a chance to continue my passion with the birth of the modern drone industry. I built my first multirotor aircraft in 2010 and immediately knew this is what I wanted to be doing with my time. Watching something you have built with your own hands and programmed or designed take flight is exhilarating. I have been fortunate to work on and be involved in several large-scale drone projects, and I have seen firsthand the transformational impact this technology can have on industry. I am able to combine my extensive software background and experience with R/C aircraft — it turns out quite a bit of software is involved in making these systems work.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

At Volansi, I am responsible for the overall software team. This includes the management and growth of the team as well as the roadmap for the development and implementation of software within the company. I also work hands-on with many of the technical projects and still love to get my “hands dirty” with development. I really enjoy mentoring new engineers and watching them develop as they get better at their craft, then look at it in awe with what was developed as a team.

What has been your favorite project so far at Volansi?

My favorite project has by far been the design and building of a hexacopter we used to test software. It was something I hadn’t done before and we successfully used it as an aid for software development and as a test and demonstrator aircraft. It was fun to actually build something physical, while at the same time build software that would run on it. Seeing the whole thing come together at the end and fly was a lot of fun.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I enjoy taking my dog, Artu to the dog park. I also love to explore the bay area and I’m into art, especially street art and murals. I still build and own more model aircraft than I care to admit, my latest side projects are building and flying fully 3D printed airframes.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

Growing up in Ohio, of course, the Wright Brothers. I visited the Wright-Patterson Airforce Museum (the world’s largest aviation museum) many times as a child that served to be the catalyst that got me into building my own aircraft.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

I think that not too long from now, certainly within my lifetime, sending physical goods will be as easy and accessible as sending an email. In the way that the Internet and email transformed communications, accessible, easy to use and safe drones of all sizes will similarly transform aviation and many other industries. We are still building the foundational drone infrastructure and technology today like the original Internet networks were being built in the ’80s and ’90s that led to all the modern technology we now take for granted.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Liz Stalford

Title at Volansi: Head Aviation Regulatory Affairs

Joined the team: 2021

Team member #124

Hometown: Bend, OR

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I have a BS degree and Commercial Multiengine and Seaplane ratings. After a few years as an Alaska Bush Pilot, I began my unmanned aerial systems (UAS) career by managing one of the FAA UAS Test Ranges. I went on to become the General Manager of a company that specialized in fire mapping using an aircraft equipped with multispectral payload and integrated augmented reality systems.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I partner with regulatory bodies for Volansi’s certifications and compliance. I am also expanding the current operating boundaries through operational waivers which will allow us to increase our capabilities for customers in the near and long term.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I love to hike, ski, garden, and of course, fly.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

Richard Bach is one of my favorites. He is not only an adventurous aviator but an outstanding author as well.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

The delivery of essential items to remote areas that have been isolated for far too long.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Matt Mason

Title at Volansi: Senior UAS Quality Assurance Technician

Joined the team: 2018

Team member #14

Hometown:Parkersburg, West Virginia

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

It all started way back in the day, on a Wednesday in January of 2005. I started to attend WVU for a Mechanical Engineering Degree while working as a Car Audio Installation Tech with Circuit City on the side. Being just out of high school, the pace of the day-in and day-out of continuing school was harsh. To make a long story short, I happened to venture into a recruiting office for the United States Marine Corps. A few months later I was standing on the yellow footprints outside of the Paris Island Recruit Depot in South Carolina. I attended the Naval Air Technical Training Center in Pensacola Florida as an Avionics Electrician. Then something special happened, which later would spark the rest of my career in Aviation! I was assigned to the CH46 (PHROG) Platform. If your not familiar look the Aircraft, look it up, it’s the most fantastic helicopter ever!

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

A little bit of everything. I primarily focus on the production of the  VOLY 10 Series unmanned aerial system (UAS), but I have also worked with the aircraft maintenance team traveling around the globe, helped the engineering team build their designs, assisted with the documentation of procedures, and help where I can to offer my skills.

What has been your favorite project so far at Volansi?

There is not just one favorite project. Every project I have been part of brings new challenges and obstacles to overcome. Overall, I would say my favorite part has been seeing the aircraft from day one mature into the planes we have flying all over the world today.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My spare time consists of being a Dad to the greatest kids ever, and a husband to my wonderful wife. Activities that fall under that category would be anything outdoors (fishing, jeeping, hiking, camping, etc.), watching Jeopardy whenever I can, playing my guitar, and exploring the new areas where I live.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

My heroes would be the men and women (military and civilian) who risk their lives to fly into harm’s way to rescue those in need.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

Being able to send an autonomous aircraft into situations that exceed safety margins for manned aircraft. If something happens, then we can send more.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Stephen Morris

Title at Volansi: Vice President of Aircraft Engineering

Joined the team: 2019

Team member #71

Hometown: Aliquippa, PA

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I earned a Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University. I have had several technology roles in my career, including being the Director of Advanced Technology at Neptune Medical, CTO at Martin UAV, Inventor of V-Bat UAV, and Founder & President of MLB Co. (UAV developer and manufacturer). Additionally, I was a design team member with SWIFT hang glider, the highest performing hang glider ever manufactured.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I’m in charge of the aircraft engineering efforts (aerodynamics, structures, and propulsion) at Volansi. I lead new aircraft design research and development, as well as product development up to the production stage. I also assist other discipline teams as needed.

What has been your favorite project so far at Volansi?

Designing Volansi’s next-generation aircraft and working through flight testing.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

For the past 40 years, I’ve enjoyed flying hang gliders, riding dirt bikes, and building model airplanes.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

It’s hard to narrow it down, but a few are:

  • Charles Lindbergh- Entrepreneur, aviator, and engineer
  • Jimmy Doolittle- Aviation record holder, aviation military leader, heroic
  • Dr. R.T. Jones (inventor of swept wings)- Self-taught genius in many fields, especially aircraft aerodynamics. Inventor of the oblique wing design
  • Stanley Hiller- One of the inventors of the modern helicopter, engineer, successful businessman, highly innovative VTOL designer
  • Niel Armstrong: Engineer, Astronaut, The Right Stuff

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

Airborne access to information, travel, and goods for the betterment of humanity.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Mike Guerchon

Title at Volansi: Senior Vice President of People

Joined the team: 2021

Team member #146

Hometown:Washington, DC

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I studied Finance at the University of Arizona on a wrestling scholarship. I went through Pillsbury’s management training program and got assigned to their restaurant group in Texas. I worked my way up from there into my first human resources role as the Director of Training. I’ve been in human resources for more than 25 years now.

One of my most fun adventures was joining Riverbed Technology in San Francisco when they were at $20 million in revenue and about 60 employees. Ten years later they achieved $1.2 billion in revenue, 2800 people, and the best IPO in the world the year we went public. The opportunity, the people, and the excitement at Volansi remind me of that same feeling.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

My role at Volansi is to ensure that you find your dream job! My team and I want your experience to be great in every way. Although there are a lot of moving parts to achieve this, we believe one key element to set employees up for success is getting consistent employee feedback. Volansi is a great place for us all to grow our careers, be wildly successful, and have some fun along the way!

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy spending time with my family skiing, fly fishing, riding, floating, and hiking. Exploring the great outdoors is one of the reasons we moved to Bend!

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

It’s hard to beat some of the exceptionally brave accomplishments from Amelia Earhart. For someone who was born in the 1890s she had a lot more faith in aviation than I would have.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

I think the humanitarian and medical applications are really life-changing uses of our technology.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Sara Williams

Title at Volansi: People Operations Manager

Joined the team: 2020

Team member #83

Hometown: Livermore, CA

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I graduated from Saint Mary’s College with a Bachelor’s in Business, finally deciding in 2009 that I wanted to pursue Human Resource & Organizational Development. I started out working for a family-owned transportation & logistics company in an entry-level HR and payroll position, and I’ve been steadily working my way up to become a People Operations Manager. I’m fortunate to be in the Bay Area and surrounded by tech and the startup world- I love being immersed in the fast-paced, innovative tech world!

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

As the People Operations Manager, I’m both tactical/hands-on and strategically focused on providing great Volansi employee support, and driving HR functional excellence and process improvement. This includes onboarding, diversity, equity, and inclusion, culture, compensation planning, immigration, and employee welfare, just to name a few. In addition to People Operations, I also support employees by working as the office manager and IT systems admin.

What has been your favorite project so far at Volansi?

It’s still an ongoing project, but we’re hyper-focused on building out the employee experience. This starts before a new team member joins Volansi and we continuing building on it from Day 1 and beyond. We’re currently working on a lot of components: pre-onboarding/onboarding experience, ensuring that employees have the best First Day Ever and have everything they need to be their best self.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Spending time with my husband + 2 kiddos (5yr old and 3yr old), they keep me busy! I also enjoy spending time with Boba the cat and Tater the dog. I workout daily, whether it’s my stationary bike, rowing machine, or weight lifting thanks to our gym in our garage. Pre-COVID I used to love going to baseball games + concerts, and hanging out in-person with friends and family!

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

Recently my 5yr old and I enjoyed a short bedtime story about Amelia Earhart. She was a brave, fearless aviator whom I admire for taking risks and trying to conquer amazing feats. We could all take a cue from Amelia, and I hope my daughter becomes a strong & courageous risk-taker someday!

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

In a previous life, I wanted to be an Astronomer, so I’m excited about what autonomous mobility will do to help us explore our solar system.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Connor Anderson

Title at Volansi: Standards Manager, Flight Operations

Joined the team: 2018

Team member #4

Hometown: I had the opportunity to live in various places, including Ft. Worth, Phoenix, Miami, and Stuttgart, Germany. My dad was in the US Air Force, so we moved about every three years

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) – Prescott where I double-majored in Unmanned Aircraft Systems and Aeronautics and minored in Business Administration. While at ERAU I was a Chief Unmanned Systems Flight Instructor as well as President of the UAS Club. Some of the students I taught are currently working at Volansi! Everything I did in college was centered around unmanned aircraft, ranging from racing drones to endurance gliders to autonomous topographic mapping projects to support university construction projects. I believe the experience that I gained in college, combined with the energy and innovation that my peers shared with my RC hobby, led to my career at Volansi.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I am the standards manager and subject matter expert for Flight Operations. I get to do a little bit of everything. I fly, learn, instruct, build, and create processes to ensure the safe and successful flights of Volansi aircraft.

What has been your favorite project so far at Volansi?

A demonstration in Puerto Rico. We flew the VOLY C10 26 miles across the open ocean delivering medical supplies to islands as part of emergency relief efforts after hurricanes Maria and Florence.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time, I fly RC planes, fix cars, and eat well. I’m steadily becoming a better 3D giant-scale RC pilot and I like to fly with old college friends when I can. I’m also rebuilding my grandfather’s 1972 Suburban.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

While studying business at an engineering and tech school, I greatly admired that Elon Musk used his success from PayPal to create SpaceX and break into the electric car industry with Tesla. I found it inspiring and it really made me think, what can I or anyone really do with success?

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

I would love to see the city from above during my daily commute. I’m excited to see how innovation will drive innovation and how changing the scope of everyday logistics will allow other new-age technologies to breach the surface, especially in regards to sustainability.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Ahmad Ziada

Title at Volansi: Vice President, Production and Maintenance

Joined the team: November 2020

Team member #115

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

 

 

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I graduated with a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State University. Prior to Volansi, I was at Insitu for 14 years where I held senior leadership roles in Engineering, Product Development, Program Management and Operations. I was a key contributor that helped the company’s growth from a start-up to a midsized company in a short time period. During that growth period, Insitu was acquired by Boeing.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I provide the Strategic Leadership of the Internal Operations and it has been really exciting so far! I ensure that we build and maintain a solid, yet flexible infrastructure to meet the exponential growth needs of the company.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy hiking, mountain biking, volleyball, pickleball, and ping pong. But most importantly, I really enjoy spending quality time with my wife and three kids- they are very important to me. My wife and I specifically enjoy traveling and enjoying great culinary experiences.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

I have always admired the Wright Brothers. They were innovative pioneers that took chances beyond the norm and created a flying revolution. Honestly, their passion, dedication, and incredible achievements prompted my fascination with aircraft and spacecraft, stemming from my childhood. I loved to travel around the world with my parents especially on the “Jumbo Jet”. I would even go to the airport any chance I had just to watch planes take off and land.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

There are so many applications that make unmanned/autonomous mobility exciting. Everything from land/sea/air drones to space exploration and even with the integration into Micro and Nano technologies, there are no limits and you can do almost anything, and go almost anywhere.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Emily Agostino

Title at Volansi: Mechanical Engineer

Joined the team: September 2018

Team member #22

Hometown: New Hampshire

 

 

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I attended Arizona State University and graduated with a B.S.E. in Mechanical Engineering. I was the team lead for my Senior Design Project and I interned as a mechanical/aerospace engineer at MD Helicopters. Outside of engineering, I was a tutor in the Mesa public school district and led ASU’s volunteer Outreach Choir, providing music, art, and a sense of community to retirement homes and assisted living facilities.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I am the lead mechanical engineer for the VOLY M20 program. My role is constantly evolving, so I get to learn about all aspects of aircraft engineering. I currently work on the major structures of the VOLY M20 airframe, including everything from modeling and stress analysis to composites manufacturing, tooling design, and supplier management.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I enjoy reading and learning about miscellaneous topics. Currently, I am researching linguistics and music theory, and getting back into (simple) music composition

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

I was drawn to Volansi because I could have an impact on developing an aircraft that could help people and even save lives.

 

Interested in joining Emily as a Volansi team member? We’re hiring! Check out our Careers page for current opportunities.

Meet the team behind Volansi’s flying robots. Each week we share stories from the team at Volansi highlighting their journey to joining the team, how they help keep our drones taking off, and some quirky fun along the way.

Mark Mesler

Title at Volansi: Chief Financial Officer

Joined the team: November 2020

Team member #113

Hometown: Pittsburgh, PA

 

 

Tell us a little bit about your background and the work you did before joining the Volansi team?

I spent 11 years at Bloom Energy as Vice President of Finance and Investor Relations. Over my tenure, I scaled their finance team and infrastructure to support a high growth alternative energy business. I was a key member of the team which took Bloom public on the NYSE in July 2018.

Prior to Bloom, I was the CFO at Aquest Systems, a venture-backed semiconductor equipment manufacturer, and I also held various corporate and division level finance roles at KLA Tencor, the leader in yield management and inspection equipment to the semiconductor industry.

I received a BS in Finance from Penn State and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University.

In your own words, what do you do at Volansi?

I provide the strategic financial leadership to Volansi to ensure that we are capitalized appropriately (think fundraising) to meet our aggressive growth goals, as well as ensure that we have the appropriate financial infrastructure and team to provide critical decision support as we scale the business.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

My family and I really enjoy spending time together at our house near Lake Tahoe. We enjoy downhill skiing, Nordic skiing, paddle boarding, and hiking. I am an avid fly fisherman, so I fish the Truckee River whenever I can, in addition to taking one or two trips a year to Montana and Idaho for some big Western river angling.

Who are your heroes in aviation, drone, or logistics history?

Louis Schalk, a test pilot for Lockheed Martin, flew the first test flight for the CIA’s Operation OXCART program in 1962. OXCART was the successor to the U-2 program and predecessor to the SR71 Blackbird. The plane he flew was unlike any other flown in history – it was a revolutionary design and it would eventually be able to fly 3X the speed of sound and 3,000 miles without refueling and eventually be able to cruise at 90,000 feet. The skills and mental disposition required by Louis at that time with this technology were unprecedented, and the impact on future tech, including stealth technology, was largely unheralded.

We are in the dawn of unmanned flight and autonomous mobility. What are the applications that excite you most?

I think one of the most exciting opportunities for autonomous flight mobility is the automation of traditional core logistics supply chains. I look at what robotics has done for manufacturing over the past three to four decades and the benefits that have been achieved, and I am excited to see how autonomous flight can improve service, reduce cost and increase the reliability of the supply chains to automated factories. The U.S. has always led the world in logistics expertise dating back to the World Wars of the 20th century. I am excited to see how we at Volansi can innovate the supply chains of the 21st century.

 

Read Next: Welcome Mark Mesler, Volansi’s New CFO