NASA rocket scientist turned Founder and CEO, Bill Fredericks, joins the show to discuss his entry into NASA and his experiences there, as well as his entry into the military, and his eventual leaving of NASA to start Advanced Aircraft Company and the exciting work he and his team are doing to advance drone technology. Incredible discussion!

Reference to the NASA video for Greased Lightning: https://youtu.be/kXql26sF5uc

Dynamic soaring wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dynamic_soaring



Aaron Spatz  00:00

You’re watching America’s Entrepreneur on Youtube. Welcome to the show. I’m your host, Aaron Spatz. And each week we interview entrepreneurs, industry experts, and other high achievers as a detail their personal and professional journeys. Before we jump in, hit the subscribe button and be sure to hit the bell icon so you’re notified every time we release a new episode. Thanks so much for tuning into America’s entrepreneur excited for another great week with another fantastic guest. So this guest he’s he’s a fellow former Marine officer, just like just like yours truly. What’s cool, as we went through some of our trainings at about the same time, he was just a little bit a little bit ahead of me. But it was really, really close in terms of our timing, which is, which is always cool. For those that are in for the Marine listeners, viewers out there, you’ll you’ll very much understand the fact that even if you don’t know each other personally, it’s pretty darn near guaranteed, you know, at least a couple people in between the two of you. And so that’s that’s one thing I love about our branch the service. But anyway, I digress, we’re gonna jump right into it. Bill Frederick’s is our guest bill is the founder, CEO of advanced aircraft company. So as already mentioned, he spent about seven years as a Marine officer, and field artillery. He was a reservist, because while he was doing that, he’s also working at NASA as an aerospace engineer. Super cool. And so he’s been running advanced aircraft company now for the last nearly six years. So really, really excited to hear about the whole genesis of this project, this company, where it is now where he’s going, and all sorts of other fun things. So anyway, just want welcome Bill. Bill, thank you so much for being part of the show today.

Bill Fredericks  01:40

Awesome. And thank you for having me, Aaron Semper Fi,

Aaron Spatz  01:43

semper fi brother. So share with me you you started to share with me the story off camera about your desire to join the military. So walk us back to So you went to you went to Purdue. And then at some point, you’ve engaged NASA. So I’ll stop there. And I’ll let you pick it up from there.

Bill Fredericks  02:03

Yeah, so actually, I should probably start with my family history in the Marine Corps. So my grandfather is a marine in World War Two. He was part of the first wave of Marines landing on part of me, first leave Marines landed on Guadalcanal. And what was crazy is, he landed on Guadalcanal spent like, a few months on the island. And he went to boot camp in Australia after the Battle of Guadalcanal. So fun fact, the Marine Corps was expanding so rapidly that he was a he was a veteran of the Battle of Guadalcanal and his drill instructors hadn’t even been to World War Two yet. So he landed on five islands in the Pacific all the way to open our and it’s freaking amazing that has survived. He was a combat engineer. And he’s one of the guys swinging the satchel charges into the caves to blast out the Japanese. And my, my father is also Marine. He was actually trying to become a fighter pilot, but he couldn’t pass the vision standards. So he ended up doing aviation supply, which he said is sucked. And I expressed my interest at a young age of becoming a Marine. My dad was constantly talking me out of he’s like, You’re too smart for the Marine Corps, you should be joining the Air Force. And yet, so I ended up applying for a scholarship from the Marine Corps to college and got it so I was on an ROTC scholarship to college at Purdue. And at the end of my freshman year, I ended up giving it up because I realized it was either going to be do Marine Corps ROTC or get an aeronautical engineering degree and there wasn’t really from a time perspective, me to be successful at both. So my parents said, You know what, just give up the ROTC scholarship and you need to join the airforce anyway. And so, so I got my aeronautical engineering degree ended up graduating fourth in my class, and start working for NASA actually, as a co op student before graduated Purdue. And this is now up in 2007 timeframe when the war in Iraq wasn’t going so well. And sit in my cubicle at NASA. And I said, You know what, I don’t want to be 40 years old, and say I sat in a cubicle the whole time. So that’s when I joined the Marine Corps. And I decided to do artillery. So as my first choice, I got it. And it’s kind of like rocket science, but there’s there’s no thrust. However, with a wraparound rocket assisted projectile round, there is thrust on that. So it is actually kind of like a lot like rocket science. But yeah, so that’s, that’s why I joined the Marine Corps.

Aaron Spatz  04:48

Wow. That’s a great story. And so I mean, one love hearing just that the family lineage and the, the experiences of of your entire family there. That’s that’s that’s really neat. And that’s something I’ve noticed a lot. Service tends to I mean, not everybody is the same. But there’s there’s a lot of people that come from a history of service. And then there, there’s other people who I mean, they are the first one in their family to join the military. So I just think it’s neat that in this particular instance, you, you come from a line of people that had served, which is really, really, really cool. Even though your dad tried to talk you out of Marine Corps.

Bill Fredericks  05:23

Oh, it’s hilarious, too, because I was basically like that that’s effing stupid. Because if I joined the Air Force, I’d be doing the exact same thing I do at NASA, I just have to wear a blue suit. And like, what’s the difference? And so I was like, You know what, I’m gonna do Marine Corps ground combat. And let’s do this. Yeah.

Aaron Spatz  05:41

That’s, that’s so. So tell us a bit about NASA. Because that’s, that’s it’s not every day that we talk to someone who’s worked at NASA I, I’ve gotten to meet somebody who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. But I haven’t really spoken to a whole lot of people from NASA. So what I mean, what’s the whole experience like,

Bill Fredericks  06:01

and that’s super interesting, too. And actually, to the best of my knowledge, I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who can say they’re a marine and a NASA rocket scientist. And now there’s been Marines for been astronauts and brains who’ve been in like, leadership management positions at NASA. But in terms of like a legit aerospace engineer, rocket scientist, I’m pretty sure I’m the only one. But if there’s someone else, I’d love to talk to him. And so NASA why NASA? Actually, when I was a kid, I had my whole life planned out by fourth grade, and classic type A personality, right? Yeah, right. And I was going to join the Marine Corps, I was going to be a fighter pilot, and then a test pilot and then an astronaut. And so I always wanted to be an astronaut and work for NASA since I was young. And I actually, as part of my scholarship package, I was also applying for an aviation guarantee. And I got it. It’s like 99th percentile on the aviation aptitude test. And we’re like, you’re a shoo in for this. But I couldn’t pass the color vision tests. So. So yeah, I couldn’t fly in the Marine Corps. So that’s another reason why the ground officer and but why NASA, I mean, it’s just always been cool. And since I was getting an aeronautical engineering degree, and since I couldn’t be a fighter pilot and no interest to get an A PhD, so astronauts are either former pilots and test pilots or PhD researchers, and I wasn’t going to check one of those two boxes. So I was like, well, I’ll just go be a NASA aerospace engineer. And the organization I was in at NASA was at NASA Langley Research Center, here in Hampton, Virginia. And I was in the aircraft design group where we do things, I had pretty wide range of spectrums, in terms of vehicle size, like one of the studies I supported was a conceptual design of a small UAS that can dynamically soar inside of a hurricane. So to capture weather data, apparently one of the big like, for example, with Hurricane Katrina, one of the challenges with Hurricane Katrina is they thought it was going to be a category three hurricane, by the time it reached New Orleans. And like two days out, it ramped up to a category five hurricane, so everybody was woefully unprepared. And they realize the big problem, so they’ve gotten very good at predicting hurricane track. But they haven’t gotten very good at protecting changes in hurricane intensity. And the reason for it is they don’t have the data they need and the changes in hurricane intensity come from the heat motion from the water into the storm and from the storm back down into the water. And you need to get temperature measurements right close to the water and that the bottom few 100 feet of the atmosphere, and watch the temperature changes in that to model the changes in intensity. So that was what this design of this aircraft was going to do is it didn’t need any propellers on it was a glider and would fly these circular patterns from down into the very low velocity, low wind velocity area and then shoot up into the high wind velocity area. An analogy is like a thermodynamic cycle. I’m probably getting down into the weeds here pretty quick. But if you fly this orbit, or under a better analogy, the albatross the albatross is a bird that flies down by Antarctica. And it can go for 1000s of miles without flapping its wings. It’s doing a technique called dynamic soar. And you can YouTube albatross dynamic story and see videos of that motion. But the idea was I wanted to design a robotic albatross something that could do that. And it would do it inside of a hurricane. So that was sort of like the bottom end scale. And the upper end of scale. One of the projects I worked on was the Aries one crew launch vehicle. Rocket. This was when President Bush left office, the areas program got cut and then got replaced with the the current launch vehicle. So I was on the aerodynamic database team for that. And then everywhere in between so is a pretty cool. I really loved my time at NASA, it was such a cool work environment to work on all sorts of different varied projects. And it is nice not to have like the pressure of trying to produce a profit margin. And I mean, obviously, we had deadlines, but it wasn’t like a commercial business. So it was really a neat opportunity to to learn. And that was probably one of the coolest things about the job.

Aaron Spatz  10:38

Yeah, I mean, that’s, that’s a great experience that no, nobody can ever take away from you either. I mean, that’s a great, a great, great thing to look to look back on, and no doubt some great, a great predecessor to what you’re working on now. So share with me then the genesis of the idea for Vance aircraft company, where did that come from? And like, how did you start to head down that road? Yeah,

Bill Fredericks  10:58

so that’s another interesting story. So I was in the aircraft design group called the aeronautics Systems Analysis Branch and, and other government agency and we have to leave it at that wanted a drone that could take off and land vertically at fly for 24 hours, two diametrically opposed requirements sets. And they first went to the typical aerospace primes, and they came back with conceptual designs of like, a drone coming off this big catapult and all these catch nets. And they’re like, no, no, we want vertical takeoff and landing like a helicopter. And, and they’re like, well, that’s impossible. You’re never gonna get a helicopter to fly 24 hours, just the physics and today’s technology level, like you’re not getting there from here. So they’re like, well, we wonder what the space cadets at NASA can come up with. And so they, they showed up to the aircraft design group at NASA Langley Research Center. And this is still more early. That’s actually this is about the time, like a year or two after I got home from Afghanistan. And so back at NASA, going back to the after I did the all the don’t kill your wife classes and got dropped back off on reserve status, going back into the one weekend a month thing. And I said, Well, you know what, I’m naive enough to want to work on this project. That sounds really interesting, cool and different. And so he did some conceptual design work. And the vehicle I designed, I basically said to him, I had some concepts. And I said, from aircraft performance perspective, what you’re asking for appears to be feasible. And they’re like, Oh, really? Well, that’s interesting. Tell us more about it. And I showed him concepts of what it would be. And a couple months later that came back and like, here’s another 2 million bucks. Don’t ask any questions how it showed up in the bank account, and build this one. And I’m like, Whoa, pump the brakes. Like we’re not building this aircraft, only $2 million. And because the design was something of a 20 foot wingspan about a 300 pound aircraft. And I’m like, that’s not enough budget to get there from here. So we decided to iterate. And I said, Well, that’s the budget we got for this year to spend on it. And so we decided to build a half scale vehicle. So something is only a 10 foot wingspan, and a 62 pound maximum takeoff weight and all the components in the aircraft were just off the shelf hobby stuff, okay, how to save schedule, save budget. And so we, we, we built it, and I did the conceptual design of the vehicle and led the project so we built it, we flew it, we there’s a public affairs video up on YouTube, we ended up naming the vehicle Greased Lightning. So if you google search NASA Greased Lightning, you can find the the NASA Public Affairs video, alright, and we finished the project and we said, hey, this technology is feasible. We quite literally put the aircraft up on a shelf, and broke up the team to go work the next jobs. And that’s just what NASA does NASA is is that says mission is not to commercialize technology and compete with businesses. NASA’s mission is to develop new technology to keep the US aerospace industry ahead of other countries. And so that’s what I said to myself, well, do I still want to be a government researcher? Or do I want to see this technology commercialized? And that was the piece that the mental exercise I went through to answer your question where yeah, you know what? I think I want to leave the government and see this technology that we just proved was feasible, commercialized. And that’s where, and it’s funny. I was going back and forth on this a bunch and my wife, she’s wonderfully supportive, and she’s a pretty sharp, Cookie yourself. She’s a chemist, and She said to me, Bill, if you don’t try it now, there’s never going to be better time than now. And you’re going to be kicking yourself if you don’t try it. And so that was the last little bit that pushed me over the edge. And fortunately, she has a pretty steady salary as a chemist. So So that sort of mitigated some risk. And and I ended up leaving NASA and May of 2017 to work advanced aircraft company full time.

Aaron Spatz  15:25

So cool. Yeah. And just as a quick admin note, I’ll link up in the show notes below. I’ll link up it’s the ability correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s Greased Lightning gl 10 successful transition test? Yeah, that sounds right. Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s on NASA’s website. So I’ll have that linked up for you guys to read. I’m also gonna include a link to like dynamic scoring. So if you want to read more into dynamic story, you can check that out. All right here with within the show notes. So well, that’s I mean, that’s quite, that’s quite the leap. So you’re, I mean, you’re going from a and aerospace engineer at NASA, to recognizing an opportunity commercially. And it’s really, it’s really interesting that you said all that because it’s like, okay, they kind of put some things in perspective for me. So NASA is not is not thinking about the commercial application for it. It’s like, Hey, we got a problem to solve. Let’s go ahead and just go solve the problem. Okay, problem solved next. Right. And without really much thought of like, there’s not like a business mind. They’re saying, Ooh, we got something here. Let’s take this. And let’s, you know, we could develop all sorts of cool applications for this. And so as much as you’re willing to share, but like, how did you get like, I mean, like, how do you just get it going? Like, did you did you need some startup capital to get get it going? The genetic first, a first good paying customer like, what was that like?

Bill Fredericks  16:46

We are we are, we’re an investor funded startup. And we are truly chewing through an investor dollars at amazingly high burn rates. So it some of the numbers make my head spin when I think about it conceptually. But yes, it’s the r&d to commercialize our products has been investor funded.

Aaron Spatz  17:07

I gotcha. I gotcha. Yeah. That’s awesome. So share with us a little bit about what like what all you’re working on right now.

Bill Fredericks  17:14

Okay, so I left NASA with the intention of commercializing Greased Lightning, okay, and I did some business planning. And I realized that Greece, Lightning has so much performance, really, the only customers at this point would be DOD. And DOD has an expectation of quality and performance that’s way up here. So by the time that product would be in the position, that realistically, DOD would start paying for it, it’d be about $8 million of r&d required. And so that’s what I started doing. And there just was no feasible path to just be in a space cadet walking out of NASA with no demonstrated business acumen, to raise that kind of money before it could make a penny of revenue. So I decided to pivot. And the pivot is the product that we’re selling now called Hammer stands for hybrid advanced multi rotor. And I was thinking strategically about what we needed to get Greased Lightning going, and what pain points the commercial market needs help solving. And I put those two together. So I mentioned the NASA Greased Lightning, we built a subscale vehicle, and we’re just using off the shelf RC stuff, and it only had batteries in it. And for Greased Lightning to get to those 24 hour flight times, it would need a series hybrid electric propulsion system, because one pound of liquid fuels has about 60 times more energy than one pound of batteries. But if you account for the differences in conversion efficiencies, it’s down to like 20 to one. And then you have to add the way to the engine and the generator and that stuff. So now you’re getting knocked down to 10 to one, but still 10 to one more useful energy per unit weight and liquid fuels than batteries. So it would need a series hybrid electric propulsion system in it. And that technology was not developed during the greased lightning project at NASA, but I knew I’d need it for for Greased Lightning. And then looking at the commercial drone industry today. 80% of commercial drone operations are using battery powered multirotors and the big pain point with battery powered multirotors is they only fly about 20 minutes at a time or so. Yeah, and well that sucks from a performance advantage. So what who cares? The so what who cares is from an economic perspective, at least a very poor productivity of the drone pilot. So in an eight hour workday, the industry is only averaging 3.4 hours of useful productivity and an eight hour work If you pause and think about that for a minute, that’s a horrible productivity metric for services industry. And productivity is important because our customers, they generate revenue by the acre, but they pay their pilots by the hour. So if they could get more acres done per day that much more profitable. And so with the first product that we’re selling now hammer, our customers can get nearly six hours of productive utilization in an eight hour workday. So seeing that market opportunity with the need for a hybrid electric propulsion system, we designed to hammer to sort of kill two birds with one stone. So we have a near term product that we don’t need nearly as much capital to get commercialized. And then we’re also developing the propulsion system needed for Greased Lightning. And now we’re starting to generate the business acumen to get us ready for the much larger rays in the future. And then that’ll get us to the point where we can commercialize greased lightning, and also on the commercial side as the regulatory framework develops, for things to streamline operations of drones beyond visual line of sight that will enable a really interesting markets for the product on the commercial side, I’ll give you one example. So let’s let’s let’s just use the example of natural gas transmission pipelines. Okay. So if you talk to the gas companies, they say they lose 3%. And Trent, in transmission, on average, you talk to some EPA resources, they say the leakage rates can be as high as 10%. So let’s just assume the leakage rate is 4%. That’s probably a pretty safe conservative number, let’s say the leakage rates 4% 4% times the price per cubic foot of natural gas, times the quantity of natural gas, the number of cubic feet of natural gas sold per year is $4.2 billion leaking into our atmosphere every single year and this country alone, and you ask yourself, like holy shit, why are we wasting $4.2 billion every single year, just from like an economics perspective? And then there’s also the environmental problem with methane is a horrible greenhouse gas, too. Why is this problem? Why is this such a large problem? And the answer is, there’s no practical way to find where those gas leaks are. They’re satellite based things. But the resolution isn’t that great. And the temporal issue of the orbital mechanics of the satellite, it only passes over that location like once every two weeks for more satellites. Results in it has to be a really bad leak before you pick it up on a satellite. Yeah. And you can’t ask a dude to walk down millions of miles of pipelines with the methane sniffer. That’s just not practical. But what if you could put your methane sniffer on a magic carpet, you’d want your magic carpet to go really fast to do like 5060 miles an hour down a pipeline, so you can get a low cost per mile. So now you’re amortizing the cost of that asset over getting a lot of miles done, which is good. The problem with going 50 to 60 miles per hour down that pipeline is you’d have to set your sensor thresholds so low, that you’d also be getting a bunch of false positives. Sure. So whenever your sensor trips, you’d want to slow down, take a closer look, confirm or deny whether there is not a leak there, identify exactly which weld on the pipeline has the crack. And once you identify that tag that location, and now the repair crew knows exactly where to go to fix it. And then speed up and go whip and down that pipeline again. Well, that magic carpet is greased lightning, Grease lightning can carry like a five pound methane sniffing system. It’ll be doing 50 to 60 miles per hour weapon down the pipeline. And the key piece here is there’s a lot of drones that can move down linear infrastructure at speeds like that. No surprise there. But the whole stop and stared to take a closer look. And that’s where grease lightnings really unique is you can slow to a hover and do that multiple times during the mission and travel safely at any speed between hover and airplane mode at steady state to actually get the inspection quality you need. So that’s a commercial market opportunity example of Greased Lightning.

Aaron Spatz  24:34

And that’s in that’s just one. I mean, that’s just right. That’s the one. This is one opportunity. And I’m just sitting here thinking that one opportunity. There’s a there’s a there’s a there’s a very large total available market there. Yeah, it could be tapped into.

Bill Fredericks  24:48

Yeah, I’ll give you another Well, I don’t know if we should keep Yeah, go for example. All right. Yeah. Another example. So like, this is all publicly released information everyone Amazon’s talking about Doing drone package delivery? Yep. And well, what’s good about package delivery for drones is it’s going to be the largest total addressable market size. So I don’t think anybody debates that. One of the challenges, though, is it really requires three significant changes in regulations before this is going to happen. But let’s just assume the regulatory change happens, as we talk about using battery powered multirotors to deliver packages, which is what most folks are talking about right now. It’s not a scalable business model. And the reason for it is, well, let me back up. So Amazon came to power they generated so much economic growth is that their percent inventory cost is very low. So they have a few distribution centers that serve the entire nation. So the percent inventory cost is relatively low. And that’s how they could undercut all the big box stores. They basically put Kmart out of business. And so now, when we talk about drone package delivery that Amazon’s doing, with the technology available today, that most people are talking about using drones, for you can only deliver at about a five mile radius. So let’s think about that for a minute. So you’re going to be building distribution centers, fully stocked with inventory, every five to seven miles crazy to be able to serve all the customers like that is a ridiculous business plan. It’s just not gonna work. That’s not a scalable solution. Now what if, in fact, you had a better drone, and say your your better drone could deliver and say you wanted to stick with all battery powered such that you could achieve the environmental benefits, assuming you recharge your batteries from a green energy source. And you could deliver at a 20 mile radius instead of a five mile radius? Well, so that’s a four times increase in radius area goes with the square of radius. So that’s a 16 times increase in area. And now assuming population density is uniform over that air, that’s 16 times more customers per distribution center. Now, all the sudden, you’ve made a scalable business model for drone package delivery. So that’s another great opportunity on the commercial side that greased lightning could serve very well.

Aaron Spatz  27:28

Well, well, yeah. So there’s, there’s definitely, there’s definitely tons of possibilities. And so like, the the path for you to get there, from where you are right now is, is you’re you’re continuing the development. And I’ve it like you mentioned earlier, I don’t know if you pronounce it, like, is it? Hammer or Yeah, hammer? Yeah. Okay. Yeah. So like, you’re continuing the development of that of that product, your Imagine yourself, that’s your flagship product right now that you’re selling correct. And then then you’re going to kind of use that to parlay your way back up into another another capital raise, you can develop, right, exactly. We’re talking about here

Bill Fredericks  28:07

for Greased Lightning, about 60% of the r&d costs on Greased Lightning is going to come from the net income of our first product line hammer, and about 40% will come from additional investment rays from other investors.

Aaron Spatz  28:22

Gotcha. So now that you know, you’ve been been in the game for a few years, I mean, you’ve been you’ve been doing this for a few minutes. So what are what are some that what are some of the big lessons learned? Like, you know, looking back on it now? I mean, I think it’s a great I mean, you’re, you’re a great example, for people that are taking an idea, they’re running with it, they want to develop it, they want to commercialize it, they see a lot of opportunity and practical application for the things that they want to that they want to accomplish. What like, like, what what would you tell yourself with what you know, now? Back then?

Bill Fredericks  28:57

Yeah, so I will admit that now once, I mean, once we make more money than I know what to do with like, then the question is, so what, like, is that important? And knowing what I know now, in all, honestly, I probably would have stayed at NASA and not done it. But now that I’ve done it, and we’re moving forward, like, can’t throw in the towel now, like we’re doing well, like, we got to keep doing it. So that would be one lesson learned is it’s just the compromise to what has had to happen with the family and I got two young kids at home and the challenges with the marriage. It’s, it’s been hard and my wife, she’s been wonderfully supportive through all this, and it’s been hard. And yeah, in one sense, it’s really nice to have a job where you can go home, and then you’re home. And it’s really hard to to always be working especially in the family and it’s like sometimes I wonder like what is the meaning of life. And so we’re getting really deep and theoretical, I think it’s you have to show that Goodwin’s over evil. And once you make it big, you can’t forget about what’s really important. And so that’s one thing like that I pray often at night is, is to not lose sight of what’s actually important. And not let. I mean, not just be in the rat race of trying to rack up the scoreboard, and how much money can you make, because that’s not really what’s important in life. And so that’s my first lesson learned is, it’s been exciting. It certainly has been exciting. And it looks like it’s also going to be rewarding. But make sure you’re, you’re ready for it. That would be the first lesson learned. The other lesson learned as a government researcher doing all sorts of technology development, I totally under appreciated the workload required of developing commercialized products. So like with all my time at NASA, it was all about like, proving feasibility that like it works. But a customer doesn’t pay for something that should work. In theory, a customer pays for something that works every single day, and making a product that’s durable, reliable, maintainable, user friendly, like all those LEDs, I vastly underappreciated. And it’s not rocket science, getting all that stuff done. But it’s just a lot of time. And it’s a lot of testing. And it’s a lot of back to the drawing board. Like this didn’t work, right. We got to go iterate. So that’s probably my second big takeaway is, it’s a lot harder to make something that’s, well, one of our mottos. Talk to the engineering team. And we’re having discussions ask the question, is that selling our customer greater productivity? And it’s a rhetorical question, but it really gets to the heart of the matter. Like, just because our drone can fly for many, many hours at a time that’s required, but not sufficient. We really have to get those LEDs right to, because I mean, if the LEDs aren’t right, we’re not selling greater productivity just because our drone could fly longer. So that has been the second lesson learned is you really have to be ready for the whole commercialization piece and iteration. And it’s just a lot more time than I ever expected. And let’s see, is there a third big takeaway, so he talked about what’s important? Commercialization. Probably another takeaway would be, it’s really hard to be a single founder. And probably, if I’d done it again, I probably would have spent a lot more time trying to surround myself with co founders that complimented me rather than trying to do it all myself. And now finally, we’re in the position that we’re starting to grow out the team. But it’d be nice to have. If is all in retrospect, it probably spent more time searching for business partners, like I’m the engineer who stayed in the Holiday Inn Express last night. So I think I’m a businessman. But it’s also important to have the opposite of the business folks that that enjoy the tech space. And I probably would have spent a little more time trying to find a co founder to be as an equal partner. So that’s probably the third big takeaway.

Aaron Spatz  33:43

Oh, that’s great. I mean, those are those are all three. I mean, those are those are great, great, great takeaways, and yeah, I mean, I’ve on that last note, I’ve seen a lot of people, and there’s a lot of opinions on that have the single founder is the co founder. There’s a lot of dynamics involved in that.

Bill Fredericks  34:01

Yes. And you gotta be careful. It’s like a marriage. It really is like who are you going to marry?

Aaron Spatz  34:07

That’s what everybody says to everybody has been on the show says that they’re like yeah, you’re pretty much getting you’re pretty much getting married and you better you better be ready for the for the long haul as as it comes to the business but now I appreciate all that so you know what’s been for you just over the last several years because I mean, you’ve you’ve made it longer than one or two three years like you’ve you’re you’re starting to have exhibit some staying power like what what for you do you feel like in terms of achievements accomplishments of what you’ve been able to do? Like what what were some of those big like, breaking in type moments where it’s just like you you’re like, man, we’ve got something here? Yes, this this looks like it works. This I’m not just losing my mind. I’m not just crazy like this actually looks like it’s getting traction like Have there been Some of those moments.

Bill Fredericks  35:01

Yeah, I’d say, probably the most defining moments is when we delivered the first drone to a paying customer. And we got a picture of the team. And we got everybody surrounded behind the pallet. And I had everybody hold up one finger for the first one. And is a picture of a highly motivated team. And it was also a picture of $93,000 sitting on that pallet. So that was probably the best defining moment to show like, hey, people like this technology, we are solving a problem for folks, and they’re willing to pay us to have their problem solved.

Aaron Spatz  35:40

That’s so cool. I mean, that’s like the that’s like the stereotypical like framed $1. Bill up on the wall. Right, right. Like that. Is your, your framed $1 Bill moment, right there. Yeah, like, Hey, guys, we did it. Here’s our first successful delivery. And I like that had to felt pretty dang cool. Right? It did.

Bill Fredericks  35:57

That was absolutely one of the high moments. Yeah.

Aaron Spatz  36:01

That’s so cool. And so then, so now, I guess from that point forward, I mean, now you just, you just continued continue to progress continue to sell like, what what’s your I mean, I know people can go to the website to look a lot of stuff up, but like, but what’s been what’s your primary vertical, like your target market that you’re that you’re seeing right now?

Bill Fredericks  36:22

Yeah, we’re focused on two markets today. And we do get inbound inquiries for other other options, too. But the two were focused on first a survey and mapping. And the second is infrastructure inspection. So we’ve picked those two markets, one because the regulatory framework of today lets you legally generate revenue doing it. So that’s a good filter and interesting all the the Evie tall space of flying people over traffic jams and stuff. First of all, I think is super exciting. But from a business model perspective, it’s crazy. Like, it’s gonna take many changes in the regulatory framework before you’re literally before you’re legally allowed to generate revenue, like all those companies going through the, the IPOs, and the specs and things like that racing, like mind blowing the large amounts of money, it is literally illegal for any of them to generate revenue. Like conceptually, doesn’t that like blow anybody else away, like, blows me away? Yeah. And so not to say that it won’t happen. But there, I mean, there’s a lot of timeline uncertainty there. And like, at best, it’s probably going to be four years before anyone’s legally allowed to generate revenue doing that, and there’s a good chance, it’s going to be a lot more than that. So that was our first criteria is, this has to be a market that exists today. And we’re legally allowed to sell to and our customers can legally generate revenue doing it. And the other is, there has to be a pain point that’s acute for the customer that we can solve. So there’s a lot of missions. Like, for example, a lot of real estate agents hire like a local drone service provider to fly a little battery powered drone to take photos of a real estate house. And that’s not our customer. That’s a job that she can get done. And 20 like you do it in one or two flights, maybe a third flight. But that’s not a big pain point. But the use cases were, for example, mapping very large areas, if you imagine so the way it’s done today, we actually as part of our pitch, we’ve got a graphic on one side of the slide shows how it’s done today, you’ve got the drone itself that everybody talks about. And then below it, I’ve got the logistical footprint to support that drone. So to fly one of these big battery powered multirotors, you need to simultaneously put six batteries in it. And then you need a minimum of four sets of batteries. And some folks actually go to the field with 10 sets of batteries with them. And the reason you need a minimum four sets of batteries is it takes three times longer to let the battery rest and recharge than it does to discharge them by flying them. So then you got all those extra sets of batteries, you need to bring at least three sets of battery chargers, you got to bring a generator you bought from Home Depot, for example. You got to bring a whole bunch of gasoline to fuel that generator to run the battery chargers to recharge the batteries, keep it in the air, then you’ve got the pilot and the sensor operator you normally have a third person does nothing but babysit the battery chargers and keep putting gas in the generator. So if you think about that logistical footprint that customer user experience, so for the operators that have a lot of area to be doing every day, that’s a really sharp pain point. Now contrast that with our technical solution. You’ve got the aircraft, the battery stay near craft. You’ve got the ground station, the pilot, the sensor operator and Everything else is gone. You just put the fuel in the aircraft, you finish your two hour flight, you land, put in a few more pounds of fuel right back up in the air again. And also a fun fact there’s an environmental benefit for using our aircraft, we actually burn about 1/3 of the gasoline as the battery powered multirotor we were place. And that’s a head scratcher like way batteries, like how you burn in less gasoline, a battery powered multirotor. Well, the way the cut offs is today is you bring a generator to the field with you like something you bought from Home Depot, for example. And that generator has a carburetor in it. carburetors aren’t very fuel efficient. The engine in our aircraft is all computer controlled fuel injected, so it’s got a much better fuel efficiency. But that’s not the full story. To use a battery and recharge it again, that round trip efficiency is actually less than 60%. So you have to put way more energy into a battery to recharge it, then you get out of the battery when you use it. So those two factors combined, we actually only burn a third of the gasoline as a battery powered multirotor. So it’s a much simpler logistics footprint, it stays up there for hours at a time. And when it is time to land and put in more energy, it’s just a couple minutes put in more gas right back up in the air again. And so that’s so a market vertical that has that logistical footprint as a pain point is one that’s important for us because those business models, they’re nearly insensitive to the acquisition price of the drone. And their business models are driven by the labor cost of their employees. And even though our drone costs about four to five times more than the Chinese battery powered drone we replace. For operator that’s got the guys working 40 hours a week, every single week, they can break even in four months. That’s a crazy fast break even time. And that’s that’s the value proposition and that’s why we’re very riches in the niches. Yeah, that’s it better way to say it. Yeah, yep. So we’re not everything to everyone. But for the folks that have a business model where they’re really driven hard by the productivity of their labor, we have a very compelling value proposition to improve their profitability.

Aaron Spatz  42:21

Well, it’s your, your, your terrific case, study in in going after a specific niche first improving, improving it out. And I mean, I’ve had a few guests, not just a few have had a lot of guests on the show. But there’s, I’m sitting here to remember which episode this was, there’s probably many of these episodes, in fact, but we were talking about this very concept about how, when you go after that specific niche, first, you find that you find a place where you can, you know, hone your craft get really good at one thing and like kind of like Master that to you, to some extent, like realizing it’s never going to be like completely perfect, but it’s gonna be pretty dang good. And then realizing what you’ve got developed, develop that and then go out and expand. And now Now you’re thinking about, Okay, well, what other things can I do now, now that I feel like I’ve got my arms around what I’m working on now, which I think is, which I think is really awesome. I’m going back through my episode list here while we’re sitting here. But I almost want to say, I think I think it was episode 127 with Mike Meelo, founder Presidency of ITA. International effect, he’s not far down the road from you. He’s, he’s, he’s in that part of the woods. He’s a defense contractor. So kind of kind of the same, the same ideas like you’ve, you’ve taken this, you’re you’re going after specific niches, proving it out making it work. And then you’re going to see more opportunity start to start to come in because you’re doing such a great job. Yeah, we

Bill Fredericks  43:55

got to get our fist through the wall first. And once our fist is clearly through that wall, then we’ll start making the hole bigger and expanding. verticals.

Aaron Spatz  44:04

That’s it? No, I I absolutely love that. So before we like before we start to like wind this thing down, like what’s the what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you? Like what’s the best way they can follow with whatever thing that you’re doing?

Bill Fredericks  44:21

Yeah, I’d say first, our website, advanced aircraft company.com. And on the team page is my face. And then I’ve actually got a little button for email me. So you can get my email address off of that. And we’re starting to ramp up some of our social media presence on LinkedIn. And we’re working with a PR firm to help us do that. So yeah, there should be more things coming out in the news that AC. We’ve actually had a bunch of press over the past couple of weeks. And now that we’re working Through the beta program, and we’re looking to grow our customer base, expect to hear a lot more sort of PR type things from advanced aircraft company.

Aaron Spatz  45:09

So cool. That’s so cool. I’m super excited for you. And, you know, I just want to thank you for spent spending some time with me this afternoon. And really, I’m just really excited to see where your journey goes. I feel like real fortunate to kind of get to see you. earlier on. I know, it may not feel like you’re early on. I know you’re like, Dude, I’ve been here for for been here for a while now. It feels like forever. But but it’s cool, because I think you know, you’re, you’re you’re continuing to grow. There’s a lot more for you on the horizon. And so I’m, I’m really excited to see where all this goes for you. So again, Bill, thanks. Thanks so much for spending the time me today.

Bill Fredericks  45:46

Yeah, thank you very much, and simplifier and

Aaron Spatz  45:48

super fun, man. Thanks for listening to America’s entrepreneur. If you enjoyed the show, please leave a review or comment on your preferred social media platform. share it out with friends, family, coworkers, others in your network. And of course, you can write me directly at Erin at Bold media.us. That’s a Ron at Bold media.us So next time

AE Podcast

Never Miss an Episode!

Get episodes and other news delivered straight to your inbox!

You have Successfully Subscribed!