Gus Hernandez began Dynamic Aerospace Technologies in January 2015. For the past two years, the retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and Air Force Academy graduate has been establishing a foundation for his “imagery engineering” business, which utilizes unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to capture imagery for everything from commercials to agricultural mapping.
Hernandez spoke with the Business Journal this week about his career in aerospace and his entry into a new and rapidly evolving industry.
Where are you from?
I’m originally from El Paso, Texas, but I went to the Air Force Academy and ended up retiring at U.S. Space Command at Peterson Air Force Base.
I was in aerospace through my whole career. I retired from the Air Force after 20 years and five days. I’d pretty much done everything in the space biz you could throw a stick at, from launch and ground systems to satellite systems to new entrepreneurial capabilities.
My career track was acquisition as an aerospace engineer and also a flight test engineer. The core of the work was a lot of space systems. I even spent four years at Johnson Space Center [in Houston] and was doing payload integration for the [Space] Shuttle.
What does Dynamic Aerospace Technologies do?
We call ourselves imagery engineers. We’re focused on bringing in technologies for drones in the under-55-pound category. We also run a flight program that entails compliance, certification and licensed pilots.
So we do things like resort and infrastructure imaging to inspections on things like wind or solar farms, power plants and electrical grids.
We also bring in more sophisticated sensors — thermal sensors and multispectral sensors for things like crop or field management or agriculture and wilderness management.
We also have long-duration flight capabilities for surveying and mapping.
We are essentially service data providers.
Why this field?
I wanted to build a company that is transformational and focuses on bringing aerospace to the public and gets people excited about that, especially our youth. I’d like to get them back into being engineers or analysts or scientists.
How has your company grown?
The first year, we wanted to get all the certifications we needed. We are a certified service-disabled, veteran-owned small business. That designation means we’re able to contract with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] and the [Federal Aviation Agency] — two critical agencies.
We’re also looking at additional certifications — Disadvantaged Business Enterprise, Small Business Enterprise — and being able to contract with the state. … The first year our focus in the company wasn’t so much to bring in immediate revenue as it was to build a strong infrastructure that could rival larger companies.
We’re a staff of seven people and four interns. Some clients think we’re about 60 people. The infrastructure is set up to operate like a large corporation.
What about your second year?
That was about learning, acquiring and waiting for the FAA to give us the approvals we wanted. The second year, we did some consulting work, small [unmanned aerial vehicle] jobs. That was where we started bringing in the right people and pilots.
So this year is really our year. I treat this as Year Zero because now we’ve gone through all the gates and have survived for two years. The first year we were nominated as a new tech startup by Peak Startup. This year we were the 2017 Pikes Peak [Small Business Development Center] Veteran Small Business Owner of the Year.
We’ve been doing the right things.
What growth do you see for this year?
I’d like to double our staff. All but two of us are part-time and I’d like to bring everybody on full-time.
What about the drones?
We have six registered drones and we’re working on two or three more that we’ll register soon. We anticipate, by the end of the year, we’ll have 12.
The evolution of these things is about every six months. The technology is moving so fast, in terms of the sensors — these are all 4[K] or 5K cameras — 12 to 20 megapixels. They’re constantly getting better. Some folks don’t have televisions good enough to view the video, so we have to bring it down to 1080p. These are essentially the new cell phone. Some are the size of a cell phone. It will be rare in five years where you pass somebody who doesn’t have a drone in their car.