Written by Kevin Cummings at NTX Inno – August 6, 2020
The Covid-19 crisis has put one local startup into a holding pattern, as the pandemic decreases air travel, as well as limits access to some borders and military bases across the globe.
However, Dallas-based Metro Aerospace, 3D printed aerospace parts maker, has been using the time to ramp up R&D efforts and is gearing up to bring new tech to the market.
“Metro is probably most directly hit between the eyes and that is because of the foreign military bases for the most part being closed,” Tricia D’Cruz, executive chair at Metro Aerospace, told NTX Inno. “It’s not devastating to the company because it’s a time-based thing, but you have to just hold on.”
Metro Aerospace is a company created in 2016 out of Catalyze Dallas, a venture development firm that specializes in the capitalization and commercialization of defense and industrial innovations. Metro specializes in commercializing Microvanes, a 3D printed aerodynamic component developed by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force’s C-130 plane. The technology is attached to the outside fuselage of a plane and reshapes the airflow and reducing drag around the rear of the craft during flight. Because of this, operators are able to fly higher and longer, saving on fuel, repair and carbon emissions.
After acquiring the rights to Microvanes from Lockheed to take Microvane technology global for defense and commercial applications, Metro has gone on to get an FAA approval for commercial variance – a rarity D’Cruz said due to it being 3D printed. While Metro is still bringing the technology to the larger commercial market, it has a number of contracts with the U.S. Air Force and other allied governments across the globe.
“Our big challenge for 2020, and especially during the Covid outbreak, [is] a lot of the air force bases are closed now or the plane is just being redeployed for aid… our target right now is in getting our products over the line within the US government to just being approved for purchase and recommended as products that should be deployed and getting them funded,” D’Cruz said.
But despite the pandemic, D’Cruz says Metro Aerospace is in a position to take off as things begin to reopen. She also notes that within the five months of acquiring the rights from Lockheed, Catalyze Dallas launched the company and brought it to profitability within the first year. She also added the company has been bootstrapped from the start.
“It really underscores what our Catalyze model is,” D’Cruz said. “The interest is there, and in many cases the funding has been put aside for this, but it’s just a question of when our borders are going to open back up again.”
Since the pandemic slowdown, Metro hasn’t had to let go any of its 10-person team. In July, the company brought longtime contractor and consultant Tim Watkins, whose experience in the military and in aviation will help them “talk the talk” for new clients. D’Cruz also said, during this time, the company has been focusing on R&D efforts and bringing some of its other patents to market, which are set to be announced in the coming weeks.
“We’ll just crank out some new products that we know are desired and work on getting some government funding,” D’Cruz said.
Another thing D’Cruz said sets Metro Aerospace in a position to weather the pandemic is one of the reasons the company was created separate from Catalyze Dallas – the environmental impact. With one company Metro has worked with in Alaska, the fleet was able to reduce fuel consumption by about 3%, resulting in nearly four million fewer tons of carbon being emitted, D’Cruz said. She added that even during the pandemic, laws surrounding carbon emission haven’t been lifted, and as the world continues to deal with climate change, environmental regulations, at least in certain places, are likely to strengthen.
“One of the things that really intrigued us with Microvanes early on was the carbon reduction, fuel reduction, the sort of environmental impact that this company could have,” D’Cruz said. “Our vision at Metro Aerospace is to take our 3D printing expertise and the expertise we have in getting FAA certification… and to grow that business to more and more capabilities to reduce fuel and carbon emissions on a variety of airframes.”