Aerospace group makes Moriarty home base

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It may be hard to believe, but just across from the quiet fields of tall, brown grass and cattle in Moriarty, a group of young men are producing cutting edge technology that they hope could soon eclipse satellite communications.

The Titan Aerospace group, which operates out of a hangar at the Moriarty Municipal Airport, is working long hours to try and bring the costs associated with satellite communications down to earth. Or at least closer to earth.

For over a year now, the group has been working on a solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicle, also known as a drone, that will have about a 130 foot wingspan and fly over 13 miles above sea level for up to five years before it needs to come back down to earth and be serviced.

Although the prototype still has a few kinks to get through, according to the crew’s lead mechanical engineer, Daniel Cornew, it’s nothing they can’t handle.

“There’s always glitches to work out,” he said. “Get the autopilot to work and the power train, that sort of thing. It’s a tough problem. You have to do a lot of testing on your components.”

There are currently 14 people working on the project and a few more helping hands will soon be on the way.

Titan recently received a New Mexico Economic Development Job Training Incentive Program, or JTIP, grant for $141,390. The funding will pay for several additional positions to help bring the UAV into full-scale production.

“Everyone works their tails off,” Cornew said. “JTIP is going to help us by allowing us to hire more people … (and) allow us to build more airplanes faster and better.”

The hangar they work from is already packed with wing prototypes, small solar panels, bits of electronic components, hacked up foam board, makeshift tools and lots of people who know enough about computers and automated drills to be very dangerous, if they chose to be.

Like most of the employees, Cornew is a relatively recent college graduate. He and the others don’t seem to mind putting in a lot of hours to build something that could be a game changer.

“We are building solar-powered UAVs that will fly at 65,000 feet and stay up for years at a time. We hope to do everything satellites can do, but cheaper,” he said. “… We get paid to build airplanes, which is a preposterous amount of good luck.”

In fact, according to Cornew, most of the Titan crew are deeply fascinated with space and science. Most of them live in Moriarty, in the same house.

When they take a break from working on the UAV, they have a little electric scooter they use to cruise around the airport, or they just try and find adventures where they can.

“We tend to fly gliders and do outdoor excursions on the weekend,” Cornew said.

But really, they spend most of their time in the hangar with the UAV, and the stuff they’ve built to help make that UAV fly.

One of those creations is actually a very heavy and imposing home-made autoclave.

An autoclave subjects materials to heat and pressure and, in this case, helps make light-weight materials like carbon fiber even stronger.

According to Cornew, the bulk of the autoclave is made from part of an oil and gas pipeline. The thing is welded and bolted together from various heater parts and gas tanks, a little elbow-grease and a lot of know-how.

Across from the autoclave is a room made from plastic sheets.

Stepping through the plastic curtain reveals that the room is actually a dust-free environment for building electronic components. It is where Titan employees pour over electronics diagrams and solder the little electronic brains that will help keep the UAVs airborne.

This is also where Dustin Sanders, who heads up the electronics side of the operation, earns his keep.

Part of the reason Sanders landed the job is because, when he attended Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville, he didn’t choose just one area to specialize in.

Sanders knows several programing languages and can write a program that will tweak a solar panel to make it more efficient, he knows how to tinker with the guts of a computer and he’s also studied physics, astronomy and other sciences.

In fact, he said he’s applied for a job at NASA several times, and he said he would be love to leave the Earth forever to be part of a mission to Mars or to colonize the moon.

“… There are lots of people like me,” he said.

According to Cornew, there could be a few like-minded folks at the local high school, too.

“We are supporters of solar energy and solar awareness,” he said.

He said that several members of the group got their start on solar car racing teams, so Titan would like to develop a solar car program with Moriarty High School, he said.

Those kinds of skills could certainly open a few doors. The folks in Moriarty who may just be busy building the future are proof of that.

 


-- Email the author at lross@mvtelegraph.com.