The drone revolution has begun. It’s just not widely distributed yet.
(William Gibson famously said the same thing about the future. Aerial drones are without doubt a major part of it.)
When you think about places that are known for leadership in drones / unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) / unmanned aerial systems (UAS), you probably think of places like Silicon Valley, San Diego and Southern California, Austin, South Africa, France, and Israel.
Even The Pope in the Vatican is getting excited about drones…
Another group of cities in the United States that are can claim leadership in the drone revolution are the six cites with an FAA-sanctioned UAS test site.
There are also cities with universities on the leading edge of autonomous vehicle research such as Boston, Pittsburgh, and Daytona Beach, Florida.
As a veteran of the aerospace and aviation industries, I thought I had a strong awareness of these leading cities of innovation in the drone revolution.
Then a few months ago, life changes brought me to the sunny capital of the Golden State: Sacramento, California. (I’m actually in Folsom, a suburb east of the city.)
The company most locals think of when they think aerospace in Sacramento is Aerojet Rocketdyne, maker of rocket engines and a leader of innovative propulsion technologies. There are other aerospace and aviation companies here too. Please read this article for my comprehensive list.
But did you know that Sacramento is the home of a thriving and growing ecosystem in the drone revolution?
I didn’t realize that until I started meeting one person after another who was doing something exciting and fun in the drone “space.”
There are so many people, companies, organizations, and communities involved in the drone ecosystem in Sacramento that we need to group them into categories. When you see this comprehensive list of drone businesses in Sacramento and other affiliated organizations, you’ll have to agree that Sacramento has every sign of being one of the best cities in the United States for drones. Whether for business, research, government use, recreation, or sport –
Sacramento knows drones.
The drone revolution has begun and it is advancing in full force. We need to learn how to make this a drone revolution for Good – so that every city becomes a safe, sustainable, and abundant ecosystem for drones.
It will surprise many people that the capital of California can be a national example for this peaceful, profitable, and exciting revolution. Drones may have started in the military (and Sacramento has efforts there, as you’ll eventually see below.) But the drone revolution is going to bring beneficial changes in almost every aspect of our lives. Read through this (long) list of drone efforts and leaders in Sacramento and you will probably find a person or organization worth getting into formation with. Let’s get moving!
COMMERCIAL DRONE MANUFACTURERS IN SACRAMENTO
There are at least two companies that are designing, building, and selling drones for commercial and industrial uses. When you put everything together the more common term is UAS – Unmanned Aerial System. Here’s two companies to be aware of:
That’s right! This IT leader with over $13 Billion in annual revenue has created its own drone program! It is geared for developers, researchers, and UAV enthusiasts to help get applications airborne quickly. Intel has a large facility in Folsom, California, and I learned at the InterDrone 2016 conference that some of their local staff are working on this program. (The program and most of the team is based in the San Francisco Bay area.) If you want to learn more about this, click the image above and enter your email address for updates. If you want to learn more about the local efforts in Sacramento, keep reading for a link to send me an email so you can learn more when I have it to share.
One of the hottest sectors in drones is FPV – First Person Viewer. This is the technology driving the drone racing industry (with sponsorship money entering the race too). While a lot of drone attention for industrial and commercial applications is focused on multi-rotor vehicles, recreational and sport FPV racing has an increasing interest in fixed wing configurations. The most advanced, efficient, and agile configurations are flying wings. That’s the competitive advantage and expertise of Sweepwings. If you are looking for a custom built race wing or an industrial drone built to your specs, contact Ruben at Sweepwings. Finding a quality source for a drone made in the USA is an exciting thing. It’s even better when it’s in the capital city of California!
There are some other candidates for drone manufacturers in Sacramento I am investigating. (Keep reading to learn about a company that makes a drone for STEM education.) If you know about any others that should be included here, write a comment below and tell me about them please.
DRONE PART MANUFACTURERS IN SACRAMENTO
Closely related to complete drone systems are the subsystems or parts that go into them. There are several companies here in Sacramento:
When you want the best in quality as well as quantity (selection) of nylon or composite propellers, APC has been in the propeller business since 1989. They design, engineer, manufacture, and distribute them all from northern California! Their propellers are sold by retailers around the world, but the only place to find and purchase all of their propellers for drones is on their website.
Digital Products Company (DPC) Audio Visual (AV) specializes in video equipment for FPV drones and pilots. Their website is set up for full secure e-commerce, including Paypal and bitcoin! That’s being maverick and leading edge, just like the FPV racers they serve. Check them out for a comprehensive supply of FPV video hardware.
If you are looking for FPV drone equipment, go to Drone Eclipse for motors, ESCs, flight controllers, props, FPV gear, and more. They provide free shipping within US for orders over $100. (Like every company here, making your purchases from these US-based drone businesses helps more of your fellow Americans benefit — along with you — from the drone revolution.)
This company (also called MRM) is led by “the two Brians” – Brian P. and Brian K. They are passionate about multirotor drones, quad racing, and being the absolute best service provider for anyone else who loves drones. Brian P can often be found on Facebook answering questions directly from peoples’ posts and comments. They specialize in parts and drones for FPV racing. (FPV is First Person Viewer. More on that ahead.) Their secret value is multi rotor frames. MRM has a proprietary process that creates world-class frames at a much lower cost than other providers. Who said things from California cost too much?!? Not from MRM. One other benefit of buying your drone from MRM is that you get free shipping anywhere in the USA with others over $100. Check out MRM for your multi rotor drone parts and service needs.
These companies are also great sources for recreational drone parts and racing drone parts in Sacramento. Buying from them not only gets the parts to you faster than from coming overseas, you have pride and confidence knowing that you are supporting other Americans who are passionate about drones and running their own business to make this a great industry, sport, or hobby.
By the way, if you are working on your own drone startup for drone hardware, software, or services, don’t waste any more money or time doing things that are going to ultimately fail. Read this first.
DRONE RESEARCH AND EDUCATION EFFORTS IN SACRAMENTO
There is a company based in Sacramento that produces a drone – for educational purposes. If you are looking for hands-on STEM education with drones, there are activities and projects you should investigate with Parallax. They also have many other products with robotics and electronics for that matter. Check out Parallax:
Here is the ELEV-8 v3 Drone from Parallax:
There are also university drone efforts in the greater Sacramento area at the University of California – Davis (UC Davis). I haven’t yet confirmed a single person or group as the primary point of contact, so here is their College of Engineering as a start:
One exciting drone event in the Sacramento area that was affiliated with UC Davis was the “Dinner and Drones” event held at the scenic Windmill Vineyards in Woodland, CA. This event in August 2016 was a fundraiser for AgStart, an Agricultural Startup Incubator to serve northern California. It featured a group of precision FPV drone pilots flying a race, performing free-flight acrobatics, and large TV screens showing the view from the drones as they flew at speeds over 60 mph through the air. Here is a photo from that event. Zoe can be seen sitting on the ground with her FPV goggles and flight controller. She was one of the pilots on the flight team.
If you have other news about drones in education settings in the Sacramento area, share it in a comment below.
DRONE DISTRIBUTORS IN SACRAMENTO
If you want to buy drones in Sacramento, you have many choices. Many drones are available in stores like Best Buy, Sharper Image, Radio Shack and Brookstone. But let’s look at places that provide special expertise, passion, and even indoor drone racing events in Sacramento.
This store is an exciting hub of activity for drones in Sacramento. They sell FPV drones, including the new “Tiny Whoop” class that are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. You can fly these line of sight (LOS) (without googles) or you can fly them with goggles! Amazing miniaturization of technology. Check out these two videos. The first one also gives you a great view inside the Fast Track Hobbies store with it’s awesome tracks for car racing.
They add more “spice” to the FPV drone racing event with LED lighting throughout the store. Here’s a short and fun video to show that FPV Tiny Whoop view. You’ll see some crashes too. (But these drones are so small and light, they can take the beating!)
TinyWhoop drone races are currently held on the 1 and 3 Mondays of odd months and the 2 and 4 Mondays of even months, barring holidays. Join the Fast Track Hobbies pages on Facebook to get in the loop for announcements and updates:
While there are dedicated drone retailers in Sacramento who do only drones, it’s worth mentioning the retail hobby shops that include drones in their inventory. Those would be HobbyTown USA in Folsom and Rocklin, and R/C Country Hobbies. If I missed anyone, write a comment below to put your business on the list of drone stores in Sacramento!
DRONE SERVICE PROVIDERS IN SACRAMENTO
Now we get to a very impressive category. Using drones for commercial operations has been a rare achievement in the United States so far. That is expected to change now that the Part 107 law from the FAA became effective on August 29th, 2016. But it takes a lot more than passing a written FAA test and buying a $1,500 drone to be a skilled and professional drone service provider. (If you want the complete checklist to find and evaluate a drone service provider for your B2B needs, contact me to ask for it.)
Here is the list (as of September 2016) of commercial drone service providers in Sacramento region:
This company does professional drone services for construction, surveying, real estate, education, and industrial customers. They have proven experience and value with large scale industrial projects such as sport stadiums. It is led by Thomas Bartlett who also flies helicopters and has a commercial pilot license. Check out some of their amazing videos and work portfolio at his website. While based in Sacramento, they also provide drone services in Oakland and San Francisco, California.
Here is a time-lapse video of the new Sacramento Kings Golden 1 Arena construction, which shows you how drones provide great value for project management as well as marketing and public relations. Additional compelling photos and videos are on the Image in Flight website.
Omega Unmanned is a consulting and research firm for high technology industry, aircraft, aerospace, robotics and communications media and technology. When you need an honest and unbiased review of your interests in high technology, Omega Unmanned has the means and resources to accomplish that mission. Two of the people in the company are Patrick Egan and Gene Robinson, both well-known and established leaders in the drone, aviation, and aerospace & defense (A&D) industries. You can learn more about them here (and you can hear more from them below too.)
Looking for more commercial drone service providers in Sacramento? ME TOO! More are in the process of being vetted so I can include them in this list. If you think you qualify, or you know someone who does, contact me here. Drone companies in Sacramento are not going to be in this list until and unless I have personally verified they are legitimate and professional. (If you want to know what it takes to get yourself to that level of quality, ask me when there will be a workshop on how to start a commercial drone business.)
DRONE RACING LEAGUES & FPV IN SACRAMENTO
There are many groups of people who race FPV drones in Sacramento. By their nature and personality, many of them are, shall we say… independent. Facebook is a popular place for them to hangout and coordinate online.
But the most organized and official drone racing league in Sacramento (that I know of, anyway) is affiliated with the MultiGP organization:
Passionate fun and flying in that group! Go to the Sacramento MultiGP website for more information about them.
Another place you might want to check out online is the Facebook NorCal FPV group. Then there are some Meetup groups below. Keep reading for those!
DRONE NEWS SOURCES IN SACRAMENTO
One of the leading sources of news on drones has a major presence in Sacramento. sUAS News is the leading source of news for the worldwide activity of business in the small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) category.
The Americas Desk of sUAS News is headquartered in Sacramento, California. Led there by Editor Patrick Egan (who you should have seen above), the global sUAS team publishes a daily sUAS News email digest, sUAS Guide magazine, a podcast, conferences, Twitter @sUASNews, and probably more… I honestly can’t keep up with the volume of valuable news and frank commentary they create. And that is saying something!
(Patrick is known for his brutally honest – yet historically quite insightful — commentary. You definitely won’t find another voice like his in the drone space. If you want to judge (and enjoy) for yourself, watch his TEDx talk from 2013.)
Patrick Egan is also the host and Executive Producer of the sUAS News Podcast and is one of the leaders behind the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition.
GOVERNMENT USES OF DRONES IN SACRAMENTO REGION
The city of Sacramento was a leader with civil use of drones almost ten years ago. Back in 2007, this news article on govtech.com describes how the Sacramento Police Department was pursuing the use of a fixed wing drone to provide air support for the police. I will be on the chase to get more current information from this department to learn what has happened since then. If you know who is best to talk with, please drop me note here. Much appreciated!
DRONE CBOs IN SACRAMENTO
If you care about the new FAA Part 107 laws for commercial drone operations in the United States, you have seen or heard the term CBO. That is a Community Based Organization. For hobby and recreational drone pilots, they fall under Part 101 (not Part 107) of the FAA code. To operate legally and safely under Part 101, the FAA requires recreational and hobby drone pilots to fly under the guidance of an established CBO.
Exactly what qualifies as a CBO, who those groups are, and how to get a group added to the list of recognized CBO’s in the FAA’s perspective are still ongoing questions (with many lively debates and frustrations). Here is a list of organizations that I believe are worth knowing about.
DISCLAIMER and CAVEAT: for official guidance on what qualifies as a CBO in the USA, please start with the FAA website for UAS here: www.faa.gov/uas
Academy of Model Aeronautics – this is the historic and influential society that is the leading organization for radio controlled (R/C) airplane builders and pilots. If you are a dedicated R/C pilot you know a lot about this group and probably belong to it. (I did when I was building and flying R/C airplanes a lot in high school.)
The AMA is one of the groups that have partnered with the FAA to create the “Know Before You Fly” campaign. If you are flying a drone outdoors you need to know about that, so go to their link here and study everything there! After you finish reading this post. :-)
The drone revolution is causing a bit of a generational shift (and some tension) within the AMA community. Maybe if the R/C veterans in the AMA can remember back to when they were feisty teenagers making people mad with their ear-pearcing gas engines, and the new pilots can let an old-timer fly an airplane “under the hood” with a view from the aircraft, then we can all fly safe and happy together.
In the meantime, here are the AMA clubs in Sacramento that have a website. There are even more you can find by doing a “FIND A CLUB” search on the bottom of the page at the AMA website. As with every entry on this article, if you know about anyone I’ve missed please let me know with a comment below or a private note here.
AIAA is the world’s largest professional society for people in the aerospace community, whether in industry, academia, or government. “Aerospace” for this organization refers to the very broad community – aviation, space, and all of the supporting disciplines too.
AIAA groups are organized into geographic Sections, and the AIAA Sacramento Section is the one you would want to get engaged with if you want to attend dinner meetings with aerospace leaders, find a career mentor, learn about industry conferences with aerospace leaders from around the world , or subscribe to technical journals that give you the leading edge knowledge on technical subjects like autonomous vehicle controls, swarming technology, airspace management, composite structures, and air traffic management.
I’m proud to be a Senior Member in AIAA, having joined when I was a freshman in engineering at Purdue University. AIAA has been an invaluable and incredibly rewarding organization for me as an aerospace engineer and project manager, so I’ll be glad to hear from anyone (including you here) who is interested to learn more about this group.
AUVSI is the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. If you want the leading professional society for autonomous vehicles and related topics (for land, water, air, and space), AUVSI is it. They also hold exciting conferences, local events, have a monthly print magazine, and many other resources for members who are students, educators, government officials, industry professionals, enthusiasts, or just concerned citizens with unmanned systems.
The chapter that serves the greater Sacramento region is the AUVSI Silicon Valley chapter. Click on that link to learn about local events (probably in Silicon Valley) and get patched into the leading professional society for autonomous vehicles. (Or feel free to ask me about this organization too, because I’m a proud member of AUVSI.)
Drone Pilots Federation (DPF)
This organization has three goals to support its mission to ensure the safe and responsible use of drones on a worldwide basis.
- sanctioning of FPV races to ensure fairness and purity of the sport
- serve drone pilots and builders through education and advocacy programs
- develop certification standards with a science-based approach to validate pilot and drone airworthiness
DPF is a worldwide organization. However, the founder of Drone Pilots Federation is a Mr. Bruce Parks who lives in Sacramento! This is yet another reason that Sacramento is a leading city for the safe and beneficial adoption of drones.
DRONE SOCIAL NETWORKS IN SACRAMENTO
But wait – there’s more! Here are additional groups for drone pilots or enthusiasts in Sacramento that didn’t seem to qualify as CBOs as a formal organization, but still could be relevant and valuable for you.
DroneAccess.net is an innovative and powerful social network and platform for all people and things drones. Imagine Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Craigslist all put together. One of the leaders with Drone Access lives in Folsom, California. This online drone community has the potential to be a revolutionary platform in the drone revolution, so jump over to DroneAccess.net and create your profile on it. It only takes a minute. (Then look for me, Brett Hoffstadt, as your friend in the online drone world.)
We also benefit from many drone groups on Facebook in the Sacramento region. You saw some of them mentioned already. Here are a few more:
Want to see what 4 people can do together from one of these groups? Check out this rockin’ video of FPV flying wings in formation. Precision flight here! And a very thrilling video to watch.
We also have groups that have formed on Meetup.com. As of this writing, there are 5 meetup groups for drones near Sacramento to share. Click any image to bring you the current list of drone groups within the Sacramento region on Meetup.com.
MILITARY DRONES IN SACRAMENTO
Now let’s review the type of drones that some people think of first. It so happens that the leading supplier of drone targets for the US military is located in Sacramento. Kratos Defense Systems, through their Composites Engineering, Incorporated (CEi) subsidiary, has been producing unmanned aerial targets for decades. They also scored a major win in 2016 for a new low cost drone (LCASD) with the Air Force, which you can read about in this press release.
Approximately 50 miles north of Sacramento is Beale Air Force Base. At this location, the USAF 9th Reconnaissance Wing operates and maintains the unmanned RQ-4 Global Hawk drone built by Northrop Grumman. They also operate other aircraft there, some of which may also be unmanned. (We don’t need to know the details.) Below is an MQ-4C Triton, which is a newer variant of the Global Hawk (not necessarily taken at Beale AFB, but the scene is representative.)
DRONE TRAINING IN SACRAMENTO
With all of this excitement, you may want to get into the action as a drone operator. Here are valuable resources to help you learn how to fly a drone in Sacramento:
Drone University USA is led by experienced flight instructors and provides high quality training for drone operations, including business-targeted expert training for drone operations in specific industries such as disaster response / public safety, commercial operators, and aerial cinematography.
Two more courses are expected to be available in the fall of 2016:
First Responder/Search and Rescue Remote Pilot Certification
Agriculture Aerial Vegetation Management/Remote Sensor Pilot Certification
Their training is unique because of the large amount of actual “stick time” that students receive flying a drone. They currently have courses in four cities in California, with their headquarters in the state capital of Sacramento! You’ll pay more than any online or classroom course, but that’s because you are getting much more than either of those options. Check out their website here for professional drone training in Sacramento.
This is another provider of drone training in Sacramento. They currently list two classes: Advanced Drone Aerial Photography/Videography and Drone GIS/Mapping. GIS is Geographic Information Systems, which pertains to surveying with drones. DISCLAIMER: I have not personally verified these people and classes yet. If you have any experience with them or can help get connected with this source for drone training in Sacramento, I would love to get a comment from you below.
There you have it! I bet you had no idea that Sacramento is the home to so many leaders and trailblazing efforts in the drone revolution.
If you happen to know of any that I missed, please let me know with a comment below.
To create a safe, sustainable, and prosperous city for drones, it will take the synergistic and complimentary efforts from stakeholders in four major populations:
* academia / education
* community / citizenry
Sacramento has this drone infrastructure in place, as this list shows. It’s a great sign of things to come in the drone revolution.
(Accounts for government use of drones in the Sacramento region is lagging, but state representatives have been exposed to the technology and economic value of drones through events like this one in June 2016, which occurred due to the dedicated efforts of several individuals mentioned in this article.)
If you stuck with this article all the way to the end, thank you! I’m sure it took you a while to get through it. (It was quite a project to write it…)
If all of this excitement motivated you to finally get that drone you’ve been fantasizing about, how about using this link? Here is the entry-level DJI Phantom 3 that comes with a 2.7K HD video camera, all for under $500. If you already have a tablet this is all you need to get started. Your purchase of whatever model you choose through this link is a nice thank-you tip back to me, courtesy of Amazon. It’s the same price for you no matter how you get to Amazon, so here’s a nice way to get started:
Did you find it valuable and uplifting to see all of the efforts with drones in Sacramento in one place? I hope so. But everything is changing fast…
There are efforts underway to bring all the major drone players and stakeholders together into a common community or event. If you want to be a part of that movement in the drone revolution, send a blank email to email@example.com. Then you’ll receive confidential emails (no spam) about future plans. You’ll also be invited (encouraged) to share what would interest and benefit you most.
If you have concerns about drones, I want to hear from you too. Dealing with the risks and threats from drones is important for all of us too.
If you are as amazed as I was when I put this list together, please use a social media sharing button below to share this with your network. We need the drone revolution to be a force for Good, so let’s work and play together for the benefit of all of everyone.
Thanks again for reading this article and spreading the good news about drones in Sacramento!
P.S. If you happen to be in a business or agency that might benefit from the use of drones (like civil engineering, construction, surveying, farming, real estate, mining, oil and gas, emergency services, advertising, film, news reporting, sports broadcasting, or tourism – whew!), contact me to arrange a phone call so you can accelerate your learning with commercial drones. I’ll be happy to help you be another person who has the vision and leadership to benefit from the drone revolution.
Feature image photo credit: Old town Sacramento from Sean Wendland, taken from an FPV drone video in high definition
Brett Hoffstadt is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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