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Can AeroVironment Soar on Promising Wind-Turbine Technology?

  • AeroVironment Business LogoThe Company: AeroVironment, a provider of small, unmanned aircraft systems to the U.S. military.
  • The Filing: Form 10-K filed with the SEC on June 26, 2008.
  • The Finding: AeroVironment, best known for its hand-launched, remote-controlled surveillance and reconnaissance aircrafts, is quietly gaining altitude in the wind power industry.
The Upshot: Sole supplier to all U.S. Department of Defense programs for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), small planes -- with names like Raven, Dragon Eye, and WASP -- contributed 86 percent of total sales for fiscal 2008 ended April 30. The company derives about 14 percent of its revenue from sales of its patented PosiCharge fast charge system, which can quickly recharge industrial vehicle batteries, such as forklifts and airport ground support equipment, with a high electric current while they remain in the vehicles during scheduled breaks.

In addition to developing non-military markets for its small UAS, such as border and petrochemical infrastructure monitoring, the company is pursuing clean energy applications for its proprietary aerospace design technology.

Leveraging its competence in high-efficiency electric powertrain and lightweight, low-speed propeller designs, the company has introduced a small, modular wind turbine solution, called the Architectural Wind system, designed for installation on building rooftops in urban areas, combining functional with architectural aesthetics.

One early adopter of the Architectural Wind system is Massport, operator of Logan International airport, located in Boston, Massachusetts. On July 22, AeroVironment announced the successful installation of the project at the airport, which comprises 20 five-blade wind turbines. Each turbine is expected to generate about 60,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year.

The company says that Architectural Wind systems have been installed on buildings throughout the country, including the new Kettle Foods potato chip factory in Beloit, Wisconsin; Laughlin Air Force Base near Del Rio, Texas; and, the St. Louis County Government Service Center.

Clean energy advocates should not hastily dismiss AeroVironment as just another newcomer. Unlike many companies that herald their innovations -- without proof of concept -- AeroVironment has a 35-year history of converting ideas into results, including the Gossamer Condor, the first human powered airplane capable of controlled and sustained flight; the Solar Challenger, which set records for solar-powered manned flight in July 1981; and, the Global Observer, successfully completing the world's first liquid hydrogen powered, unmanned test flight in 2005.

The Question: What do you the reader think -- can AeroVironment successfully deliver on its promising wind-turbine payload?