I picked up the local paper this morning and see this in there.I am the only person in Oakdale or nearby that even has a helicopter.
Oakdale garage could hold Valley's next big industry
OAKDALE — About that strange noise coming from your neighbor’s garage. …
Guess what? It isn’t always a meth lab.
It could be the sound of a genius working on America’s next great invention or industry. After all, garages have been the maternity wards for some of the world’s great innovations, from automobiles to the Apple computer.
Modesto Bee - (BART AH YOUemail@example.com) - Dawei Dong, Chinese aeronautical engineer of Oakdale, poses next to his creation, the Ag 210, an agricultural unmanned helicopter. He says the fifteen gallon payload can spray 5 acres of land. Want one? It'll cost $180,000.CLICK TO HIDE PHOTOS
The folks in Dawei Dong’s west Oakdale neighborhood routinely hear the sounds of machinery drilling, whining and grinding away as he builds prototypes for remote-control helicopters. He hopes they’ll someday revolutionize the crop-spraying industry, among other uses in California and the United States.
He and partner Hui Zhou own Agriculture Unmanned Helicopters LLC. They were among the exhibitors at the World Ag Expo in Tulare earlier this month, where roughly 100,000 farmers, ranchers and business types converged to see the latest in ag-related products, exchange ideas and look for ways to make their businesses more profitable.
“They were looking at (Dong’s helicopter) for mosquito abatement,” said Billy Bryels, Dong’s neighbor and friend who accompanied him to the show. “A guy from Illinois talked about how close it could get working in tight areas. Other people compared it to fixed-wing or full-sized spray copters. Some of them told us, ‘It’s about time somebody did this.’ ”
Somebody, meaning the Yamaha company in Japan, did, beginning in 1997. Dong, however, believes the market is ripe for his products.
Born in Beijing, the 59-year-old studied at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, becoming a helicopter designer. He learned to fly helicopters and airplanes before coming to the United States in 1990, taking his oath of citizenship five years later.
Zhou also learned to fly helicopters in China before she came to the United States in 2005, gaining citizenship last year.
More than a decade ago, Dong developed and patented a laser leveler. He sold the manufacturing rights to American toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker. The sale, he said, provided the seed money for his lifelong dream: to build remote-control helicopters. He formed his company and began designing and building prototypes in his garage. Zhou works with him, manufacturing many of the 500 parts needed for each model.
His 210 model has a 50-horsepower German-made Hirth engine and can carry 180 pounds of spray. The smaller 120 model has a 27-horse Kohler engine normally used for larger garden tractors. It can carry about 100 pounds of spray.
“It’s not something you’d get down at the hobby shop,” Bryels said.
Dong has flown one prototype successfully from a hangar in Tracy. The 120 and 210 models are about a month from being ready to fly. He needs just three elements to get his company off the ground, figuratively and literally: investors, a manufacturing facility and customers.
He wants to make the machines to carry the stamp “Made in the U.S.A.,” building them here in the valley.
His top selling point? Safety.
Rigged as a crop-sprayer, Dong’s remote-control helicopter virtually eliminates the risk to pilots’ lives. With Dong’s models, the pilot flies the aircraft from a lightweight and portable control station on the ground.
Consider the accident a year ago, when veteran pilot Bill Cavanagh’s engine suddenly lost power and his helicopter crashed upside down in an orchard near Escalon. Forget the torn aorta, broken back, leg and ribs and a severed finger that had to be reattached. Cavanagh nearly drowned because leaking fuel began filling his helmet.
Understand that veteran pilots, and particularly crop-sprayers, never want to quit flying. They love the thrill of zooming in and dropping the payload, then avoiding a power line or dodging an oak tree.
But most also are businessmen, and the chance to make more profit might change their thinking.
Dong said his larger 210 will sell for about $180,000 and the 120 for $100,000. A Bell OH-58 helicopter, the model Cavanagh flew, costs about $400,000.
Insurers factor in risk, pilot experience and equipment replacement costs in determining their rates for crop-sprayer and duster operations. With the pilot on the ground and the cost of the unmanned machine less than half of a manned aircraft, insurance premiums no doubt would be significantly lower, one insurance agent told me.
These copters can also be equipped with cameras, making them suitable as less expensive tools for law enforcement, TV stations and utility companies.
Dong’s helicopter, like so many other inventions, began with a dream and an idea. Tools, machinery, know-how and some luck can make it a reality.
So the next time you hear strange noises emanating from your neighbor’s garage, it might be a meth lab.
Or it could be a genius at work trying to create America’s next great industry.