Textron Makes The Military To Civilian Leap

David Phillips of Textron Systems says that when it comes to using UAS, dealing with the military is really no different than dealing with the oil and gas industry.
By Patrick C. Miller | May 14, 2015

Last week’s AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems 2015 conference in Atlanta included a panel discussion on the topic of using unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in the oil and gas industry.

A few speakers who worked for or with the industry gave the impression that what worked for the military UAS world—especially when it came to pricing—wasn’t necessarily applicable to the oil and gas industry.  

David Phillips, vice president of small and medium-endurance UAS for Textron Systems Unmanned Systems, provided a “not so fast” response.

“Dealing with the military is really no different than dealing with the oil and gas industry,” he stated. And he should know because Textron has a great deal of experience flying its Aerosonde UAV for the oil and gas industry.

Some of the missions Phillips said Textron is conducting today for the oil and gas industry relate to productivity, security, safety and regulation.

“Unmanned systems provide the opportunity to speed up a process or increase the frequency or volume of data that you get,” he explained. “They provide a better opportunity to protect personnel and critical infrastructure.”

Phillips also pointed out that because of Textron’s military connections, the company has experience doing what few other operators can claim: It has more than a million hours of operation at some of the busiest airports in the world. They just happen to be located in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We get in in line with manned aviation in landing and takeoff patterns,” he noted. Textron’s UAS are equipped with transponders and coordinate their flights with air traffic controllers.

In other words, he said, “We’re doing a lot of what the FAA is going to expect some day. We’re doing that now.”

There are other similarities between civilian and military customers.

“Our oil and gas customers, like military customers, want us to be runway independent,” Phillips said. “They don’t give us a big space. They give us a small spot in which to take off and land.”

This includes flying the Aerosonde from off-shore oil platforms and boats. On land, the system can be moved quickly from the same vehicle used to tow, launch and recover it.

Phillips stressed that the key to making the jump from military to civilian operations was reinforcing the idea of thinking commercially, as well as stressing safety, reliability and business agility.

In that sense, Textron’s history in manned commercial aviation through its ownership of companies such as Cessna and Bell Helicopter serve it well. However, it’s clear that much of what the company has learned from its military mission can also serve the civilian market well.