Detroit to implement UAS in first response scenarios

By Emily Aasand | October 03, 2014

Detroit Aircraft and Lockheed-Martin have partnered to integrate unmanned aerial systems (UAS) into urban firefighting and first response scenarios. Detroit Aircraft manufactures and distributes Lockheed-Martin’s Indago vertical take-off and landing Quad Rotor and charging system that the City of Detroit and the Detroit Fire Department will use.

Detroit Aircraft was one of the largest aircraft manufactures in the world in the 1920s and owned several aircraft companies, one of which was Lockheed before it became Lockheed-Martin. According to the company, Detroit Aircraft was forced into bankruptcy due to the Great Depression in 1933. 

Jon Rimanelli, founder and CEO of Detroit Aircraft, restarted Detroit Aircraft three years ago and wanted to move the company toward unmanned aerial systems. According to Todd Sedlak, director of sales and flight operations for Detroit Aircraft, Rimanelli saw a huge opportunity in the UAS field and particularly with Lockheed-Martin who is a major manufacturer.

“Excited about the previous relationship in the 1920s, Rimanelli contacted them [Lockheed-Martin] to rekindle that relationship,” said Sedlak. “It took a while, but Lockheed also became eager to re-establish that relationship and to put some of the manufacturing back into Detroit.”

To date, Detroit Aircraft is manufacturing Lockheed-Martin’s charging systems that its Indago’s battery uses.

“We’re on our first order of 50 air vehicles and received the first 25 built by Lockheed-Martin but will receive the second set of 25 as high-level assembly kits, where we will actually be doing the final level of manufacturing for those,” said Sedlak. “Our goal is to be manufacturing form the ground up—right from manufacturing the circuit boards to molding the parts to the final assembling delivery to customers.”

The Indago weighs less than five pounds, has a flight time of about 45 minutes, is able to carry both a color camera and a thermal camera, and requires no assembly.

“The aircraft has folding parts which allows the legs to fold up, the arms to fold in and the whole thing fits into a very small case the size of a football,” said Sedlak. “The aircraft can easily be in the sky ready to go in less than three minutes.”

Lockheed-Martin conducts training for the UAS for its customers and as the re-seller, Detroit Aircraft also conducts training.

According to the company, the training takes three days, classroom time and flight training. Although, the company said, an operator can be operating the aircraft in just a few minutes.

Sedlak—the lead trainer at Detroit Aircraft with more than 3500 flight hours—is also a firefighter, which is one reason the two companies developed a partnership with the City of Detroit and the Detroit Fire Department.

“When I was able to take these two skill sets that I have as an unmanned systems operator and a firefighter, the utility was obvious to me,” said Sedlak. “We set up meetings with the Detroit Fire Department and I explained the utility to them and they were immediately on board.

“The Detroit Fire Department sees about 25 structure fires a day. They’re the most underfunded and overworked Fire Department so of course they’re our flagship customer because they’re our home customer. We want to make sure we roll out and help the Fire Department that matters to us most.”

Detroit Aircraft has applied for a certificate of authorization and is expecting to receive that within the next month, at which point, it will conduct training for the Detroit Fire Department.

“We’re really excited about this fairly early technology,” said Sedlak. “A few Fire Departments across the country are just starting to use items like this and we feel like Detroit is uniquely poised as both the manufacturing city and as one of the busiest metropolitan Fire Departments in the country to really lead the country in the integration of UAS and firefighting.”