Kate Cagle

Daily Press Staff Writer

Tucked away in an unassuming office building off Colorado Avenue, a small group of engineers are diligently working on the next generation of drone technology.

Walls covered in Post-it notes and complex math equations provide the backdrop as former NASA Ames scientist Nicole Jordan refines the technology she calls “game changing.”

The engineer remembers when she first applied to work at the small start-up tackling one of the biggest leaps in drone technology – combining the vertical take-off of a helicopter with the energy efficiency of an airplane.

“If this works, this is really going to change the industry,” Jordan remembers thinking.

In August, Jordan and her colleagues at Santa Monica-based FlightWave Aerospace Systems, Inc unveiled the Edge, a tri-copter, fixed-wing drone that can take off straight up into the sky and then fly like an airplane through the air.

The technology has promising applications for a variety of industries – a video on the company’s website shows the drone delicately landing on a small square on a rocking boat at sea. While many consumers are familiar with quad-copters, the battery-sucking blades often restrict flying time to just a dozen minutes.

“What happens when you fly fixed-wing, it takes less energy, less power to fly the drone so it can go long distances,” Jordan said, explaining the Edge still has ability to hover.

The Edge can fly for up to two hours, allowing the operator to track Whales, map crops, or soar to the scene of a traffic accident before returning to base Jordan brought her experience as a pilot (she did her Checkride at Santa Monica Airport) and as an engineer at NASA Ames working on the QSRA, a failed experiment in short-runway takeoff aircraft.

The aircraft was discontinued because it was so expensive.

“I like to work on game changing technology,” Jordan said, who grew up in Columbia dreaming of becoming an astronaut. For her fifteenth birthday her family sent her to Space Camp in Alabama, where the teen soaked up the experience while barely speaking a word of English.

She moved to California for the last two years of high school in the hopes of joining the Airforce or Navy. They wouldn’t take her because of her Columbian nationality.

Instead, Jordan focused on pursuing multiple engineering degrees and getting her pilot license on her own. She’s worked in experimental aviation ever since, and sees drones playing an integral part in the future economy. Jordan recently became an American citizen.

The company was founded by two Stanford grads, Michael Colonno and Trent Lukaczyk in 2014. Colonno said the two went back and forth over where to establish their business, but eventually settled on Santa Monica because its proximity to aerospace infrastructure companies along the coast.

“It’s actually a great place to be an aerospace company,” said Colonno who worked at Space-X in Manhattan Beach before starting his own company. “It’s just very, very expensive. It’s also very, very easy to convince people to move here.”


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press