Paragon VTOL LLC announced in June that it had selected Brownsville as the headquarters of its fledgling vertical-takeoff-and-landing-technology company.
At a press conference Monday held at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport, Paragon President Dwight Smith introduced two new members of his firm’s management team: Ken Peterman, a veteran of the aerospace/defense industry, serving as Paragon’s chief executive officer; and Jeff Mobley, the company’s new chief financial officer. Mobley’s background is in investment banking and equity research, oil and gas, and capital markets.
It was also announced during the press conference that Texas Southmost College will partner with Paragon to provide workforce training for the company, which Smith said will hire up to 50 employees before year’s end and “create a staggering number of jobs” over the next several years. Development and testing and development of Paragon’s VTOL drones should begin within the next couple of months at the airport, where the company will occupy multiple sites, he said.
“As far as the drones being up in the air, it’ll be before the year is over,” Smith said. “We’ll start doing a lot of test flights for the small, light cargo delivery drone, and then trying to get some understanding, some data, from that so we can scale to the next level.”
Eventually the company wants to develop autonomously controlled, passenger-carrying drones for carrying passengers up to 500 miles, with Brownsville serving as the hub. Integral to Smith’s vision are “verti-ports” where the aircraft would take off and land and be serviced. Among the customized training programs TSC plans to develop for Paragon is one teaching verti-port maintenance, TSC President Jesus Roberto Rodriguez said at the press conference.
The verti-ports, to be built by Rolls Royce MTU, are just part of the infrastructure necessary to support an urban air-mobility capability the likes of which Peterman said has “never existed before.”
“That’s not just small- and heavy-cargo drones,” he said. “That’s not just passenger drones. That’s a software-sophisticated highway system that controls and manages the flight so it’s done safely. It’s about the power system and the power grid that is cyber-secure and sustainable, and spins off future capabilities, future power sources.”
To ensure a reliable power source to operate the network, Paragon plans to build multiple, multi-million-dollar electrical “micro-grids” in Brownsville, Smith said.
“The micro-grid is the first step of a series of steps required to make this entire ecosystem viable,” he said. “Without an infrastructure it’s really a very tough value proposition. It’s not just about having a helipad with markings on it. … You have to have all the other support systems in place. We’ve got to figure out what that is. We have to find the failures and find them fast, and then figure out how to build on that.”
Building the micro-grids will “require a lot of companies coming together,” Smith said. Also on board to help develop the grids are SNC Electric and Baker Energy, owned by Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker, Smith said. Arup Engineering will help design the verti-ports themselves, he said.
“Paragon is a very ambitious company,” Smith said. “We have very ambitious goals.”
Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez, kicking off the press conference, said companies like Paragon and SpaceX “give a preview of where we’re going” while “changing the mindset and economic landscape of our city.”
“I think we’re pretty much already the innovation capital of the Rio Grande Valley,” he said. “I want Brownsville to be a leader in new technology and methods of transportation. Dwight is doing that. This has a huge economic impact.”