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June 22, 2018

Aerospace and Technology

Trendsetters - Nov. 2006

Mike Vogel | 11/1/2006

Rick Lind
University of Florida, Gainesville
Assistant professor, aerospace engineering

  • Attractive Field: "It's a great way to recruit students."
  • Division of labor: Undergraduates do the building and flying since they lack the math to do the research.
  • Can't do without: CD player.
  • Fun and games: Volleyball, cycling.
  • Family: Wife, Jacqueline; daughter, Alison

In a field near Gainesville, the University of Florida's Rick Lind and his research colleagues and students fly their very unusual creations -- small planes with shape-changing wings modeled on birds and bats, controlled by cutting- edge UF-devised algorithms and powered by off-the-shelf engines.

Micro air vehicles are a forte of UF engineering faculty such as Lind, principal investigator on a $5-million research grant.

A Minnesota native with a bachelor's in physics and a master's and doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, Lind landed a dream job out of school at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base in the California desert. There he helped in the planning of the X-33, the one-time would-be successor to the shuttle. He also worked on pilotless planes that were just coming into their own. Still, there were drawbacks, such as the remote location, and Lind missed the enthusiasm of students. He joined UF in 2001, where he teaches flight control and works to make tiny planes agile and autonomous. Unlike their larger, soaring surveillance and munitions-carrying counterparts now in service in the Middle East, micro vehicles are meant for darting around the corner or inside a building for close-in surveillance. "It's like taking a Mack truck being stable enough to drive and changing to a Porsche to go around a turn and then back to a truck." Lind, 38, expects UF-conceived, shapechanging technology to be in the field in two years.

Steve Kohler, Space Florida / President, Titusville

Startup: Space Florida, created at the behest of Gov. Jeb Bush by the Legislature this year to replace three state aerospace-related bodies. It's to lead the state's aerospace business development as the nation follows President Bush's space exploration plan and as commercial space travel advances.

Bio bit: Kohler, 49, grew up in Pennsylvania. He was a power-lifter in college.

Most recently: CEO, privately held Winner Global Defense, Sharon, Pa., one of the holdings of entrepreneur James Winner, the force behind The Club carsecurity device. Global Defense seeks to develop and sell anti-terrorism gear such as a personal high-rise escape device and aircraft countermeasures.

Private economic development: Formerly with real estate firm CB Richard Ellis in Pittsburgh, Kohler is an investor in a research park at Penn State University.

Public-sector economic development: From 1996 to 2001, Kohler headed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge's economic recruitment, retention and incentive program, the Governor's Action Team. He also was executive director of Team Pennsylvania, a public-private partnership for community and economic development.

Education: Bachelor's, urban studies, Edinboro University, Edinboro, Pa.

Space edge: "One of the things that impressed me in Florida was the human capital. Florida has a very deep reserve of talent."

Interests: Cycling. In the past, consulted and taught technique to young hockey, basketball and football athletes who were patients of physical therapists and orthopedists.

New job worries? "A little anxiousness to make sure we get started on the right foot. I know it's going to be a lot of work. I'm looking forward to it."

Asked by budding entrepreneurs what it takes to start a business, Daytona Beach simulation firm co-owner Don Ariel answers, "a healthy dose of stupidity." Ariel could pen a business quip-of-the-day calendar -- if he weren't busy assuring Raydon's place in the broad, commercial simulation market he foresees.

Ariel, 43, and his co-owner, Dave Donavan, 45, have built Raydon with just $6,000 into a $43-million, 300-employee firm. Veterans of the GE Aerospace Division in Daytona, they believed they could consult for simulation-trainer companies and founded Raydon in 1988 with former GE colleague Ray Hockney. To keep the doors open, they once took a contract to refurbish tractor-trailer-based mobile trainers, right down to sandblasting the units.

Raydon found a niche in 1996 supplying the resource-strapped Army National Guard with virtual training at a fraction of the cost the regular Army pays its vendors. Raydon's convoy simulation has become especially useful training for Iraq. Now, Raydon is taking the risk of building trainer fleets it can rent, for a hefty reward, to the military rather than focusing on sales and long-term, government-funded development of products. And it's going after the civilian market. Ariel says 69,000 students have used its virtual driver trainer. He sees a simulation future in sporting goods, education and industry. Says Ariel: "The market is going to start changing rapidly. Our mission is to be one of the two or three standing at the end."

Don Ariel

Raydon, President, CEO, Daytona Beach

Ariel on ownership: "It's really great owning a company until the day you wake up and realize it owns you."

Wisdom: "What the customer needs is not always what they say they want."

Interests: Acoustic guitar, Taylors. Self-taught. Also self-taught in piano and harmonica.

Lutz-based flight simulator maker Opinicus, $20 million in revenue, is set to boom as the exclusive manufacturer of the simulator for the Eclipse 500, the very light jet promising to revolutionize air travel by opening private jet service and ownership to a wider audience through innovators such as DayJet, which plans to offer on-demand, pay-per-seat commuter service.

Electrical engineer and Opinicus President James Takats, 47, who founded the company with CEO and aerospace engineer Mark Budd, 48, expects employment to increase to 225 in the next five years from the current 52.

The company's main business of late has been for Air Force special operations and now Eclipse.

"What swayed it was Eclipse wanted the best training devices out there," Takats says. "They're very quality-conscious."

Gary Langton, 46, CEO and co-founder, Quadrant Software, Temple Terrace, a software developer.

Vince Virga, 35, COO and co-owner, Skillstorm, Fort Lauderdale, IT and services to government and commercial organizations.

Tags: Trendsetters, Around Florida

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