Episode 17 of the Public Sector Heroes Podcast feat. Fatema Hamdani
Written by Frank McNally
One of my favorite books is Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a story by a former Air Force pilot about a bird who doesn’t conform to the flock, and whose intrinsic passion for flight takes him on an epic journey through time and space. Jonathan, the protagonist, wants to fly farther, longer and better than any seagull who has ever lived. Not for fame and glory, but because he cherishes the process and the challenging pursuit of perfection.
I expect that Fatema Hamdani, cofounder of Kraus Hamdani Aerospace, has a lot in common with Jonathan Seagull. A physicist by training, she and her cofounder launched with ambitions of their own lofty pursuit: continuous, “24/7” unmanned aerial fixed wing flight. And shortly before she appeared as the first guest in our newest season of the Public Sector Heroes Podcast, Kraus Hamdani Aerospace took a massive step forward with a record-setting 12-hour flight at the US Army Yuma Proving Ground.
To put that into perspective, consider the previous record time for continuous flight was 90 minutes.
Host Raj Sharma, Founder and CEO of GovShop and Public Spend Forum, is always curious about what inspires our public sector heroes. For Hamdani, it’s the aspiration to push boundaries, the process of creating new technologies and yes, the pursuit of breaking records. She recalls how Dr. Will Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, & Logistics, challenged her to achieve 24/7 continuous flight, a seemingly impossible task that, thanks to her ingenuity and drive, may be closer to reality than ever before.
As she describes in this episode, pushing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fly farther, longer, and function better than they currently do requires some heroic innovation. Creating surplus energy on board is a key factor, but one that requires new thinking and technology around power management. So, they’re creating systems that allow their UAVs to use multiple energy sources like solar panels, turbines and even commercialized nuclear power to harness energy and achieve continuous flight.
Our application expands across defense, commecial use cases, and impact.
But that’s only part of the equation, because flying forever requires more than human engineering. Kraus Hamdani is gaining an edge from biomimicry, the design and production of materials and systems modeled on biological processes. “Nature has figured out over millions of years how to assist birds when they’re doing long-distance flight. They’re not constantly flapping their wings, they’re using environmental conditions to their advantage. That’s exactly what we do.” Their on board sensors monitor multiple environmental conditions such as the center of a thermal, using nature’s power to propel their craft and conserve it’s non-replenishable power, “like an albatross flying over an ocean.”
“You’re doing exactly what Wright Brothers did for flight, you’re doing that for unmanned aerial systems” Hamdami recalls one investor, a former Naval officer, telling her after a recent pitch.
But like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, it isn’t extrinsic reward that drives them. “My cofounder and I have always gone after big, hairy, audacious problems. We realized that Defense was one of the sectors that truly needed this,” but their applications extend to counternarcotics, disaster recovery, and even a non-profit anti-poaching effort in Zimbabwe. It’s all about the impact they can make on the sectors they serve.
“That’s where our passion for saving lives comes in.”
Somewhere, beyond the breakers in a far-off coastline, a seagull is perfecting its flight, not for food but for personal glory, and driven by a thirst for learning. Fortunately for the good guys, Fatema Hamdani and her team at Kraus Hamdani Aerospace are not far behind.