BROWNSVILLE — Dwight Smith, founder of Paragon VTOL LLC, is bringing his Vertical Takeoff and Landing technology company to Brownsville.
Mayor Trey Mendez made the announcement at a press conference Thursday at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. The company will begin manufacturing operations this year at a site on airport property, Smith said.
Mendez said the firm’s presence is the latest step toward Brownsville becoming “new space city,” the others being SpaceX, venture capital firm Spaced Ventures, and the Space Channel, which announced last month it will move its studio from Los Angeles to Brownsville.
“Now with Dwight and Paragon we’ve got our fourth company that’s involved in (new space),” he said. “I can tell you, there’s a lot more coming.”
Helen Ramirez, deputy city manager and Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation CEO/executive director, said Smith chose Brownsville over roughly 50 other Texas cities for the VTOL facility.
Smith, a native Jamaican and U.S. citizen, said he committed himself to Paragon about three years ago and that the company has already built VTOL aircraft, starting with a small drone delivery program.
“Starting this year we’re going to be doing package delivery (in Brownsville) to test the opportunity and make sure we work out all the bugs and kinks,” Smith said. “I assume and I expect that there will be some challenges along the way, and I hope it fails in some aspect, so we can learn how to get the failures corrected … so we can move forward to the next level.”
The next level will entail building VTOL aircraft for heavy cargo delivery, with the eventual goal of transporting people, he said. The passenger drones would carry five people up to 500 miles, and would be powered by a combination of electricity and biofuel, Smith said. The fuselage is composite fiber.
“I just don’t feel comfortable saying that we’re going to put passengers inside right away until we understand how it operates carrying heavy cargo inside,” he said.
Smith, who built his first glider at 7 years old, was flying airplanes by high school and studied marine biology in college, said his aircraft’s design is based on the orca, or killer whale, fusing his love of aviation with that of aquatic life.
“I really care what happens to this planet,” he said. “I also care about practicality. … I wanted to build a company and a technology based in practicality.”
Smith said his first move after choosing Brownsville was to set up a STEM scholarship for Brownsville schools. STEM stands for “science, technology, engineering and math.”
“You don’t need to agree to work for me, you just have to have the desire to do something, or you go on to college,” he said. “It’s really important that you start with the foundation in order to build the house.”
Smith said that with Paragon he wanted to do something unique in terms of developing an alternative to traditional transportation modes, create job opportunities and “kind of figure out how to build this thing together.” He said he also wants to build a VTOL terminal in Brownsville.
“I believe that transportation is long overdue for an overhaul,” Smith said.