VTOL founder talks jobs; Firm to start with light drone delivery

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Jun. 26—Dwight Smith, founder of a "vertical takeoff and landing" aircraft company that is moving to Brownsville, says he'll probably employ between 30 and 50 people when the firm starts operations here this year.

He made the remarks at a June 17 press conference announcing the relocation of Paragon VTOL to the city. Smith, who self-funded the company, said he is pursuing a "crawl, walk, run" strategy in which the initial focus will be on light package (10 pounds or less) drone delivery.

"That will be for what I call the three M's, which are meals, mail and medicine," he said, with the first delivery flights being within two miles.

"The goal behind that program is to understand what works in a real world setting and what does not work," Smith said. "It's a lot easier to do it in a test lab and say we flew our aircraft or our drone and we were successful. It's another thing to get out there and get it done in the real world."

Paragon could hire many more beyond the 30-to-50 estimate if the company is able to land a contract with a large enough client, he said.

"If you're talking about a major retail partner, the drone delivery can create hundreds of jobs the minute we start to implement that program," Smith said.

He predicted the "walk" stage of the company's strategy, which will involve large drones for moving heavy cargo, would begin next year. Eventually Smith, who has self-funded Paragon, wants to develop VTOL aircraft capable of carrying passengers, and envisions a future where surface road traffic jams are a thing of the past.

Paragon has tested small, medium and large drones in other countries, he said.

"We're at a point right now where we need to a lot more validated testing," Smith said. "And so you're going to see a lot more of that over the next six to 12 months here in Brownsville, in an area that will be designated strictly for that purpose. That will be for the large drone, and then there will be another area designated for the small drone as well."

The company's aim is to develop VTOL aircraft to serve a number of different types of industries and eventually carry passengers. Paragon's manufacturing facility will be located on Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport property, though a specific site has not been chosen.

Smith said the company also plans to develop a "vertiport" — short for "vertical airport."

"We actually have a large capital commitment, north of a billion dollars, just for the micro grids that will power the vertiports, so we're excited about that," he said. "I would like to create a hub here, right outside this airport across the tarmac there. Plans are in the works right now to put that together, because I believe it allows us the opportunity to really connect the dots, not just in the state of Texas but all throughout the United States."

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sclark@brownsvilleherald.com

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