March 13, 2015
Tad McGeer, Aerovel’s founder and president, trained as an aeronautical engineer at Princeton and Stanford, and then joined the new Engineering Science faculty at Simon Fraser University in his native British Columbia. There he developed the concept of passive dynamic walking, which went on to be adopted as a paradigm for study of human locomotion and design of legged robots. In 1990 he returned to aeronautics, joining a Virginia start-up, Aurora Flight Sciences, as chief scientist. He headed early design studies on the Perseus and Theseus unmanned research aircraft, and then proposed the Aerosonde concept for long-range weather reconnaissance. This led to founding of The Insitu Group, beginning in a Silicon Valley garage in 1992, and moving to the Columbia River Gorge in 1994. Insitu pioneered development of miniature robotic aircraft in worldwide trials, with Aerosondes making the first unmanned Atlantic crossing (1998), first unmanned typhoon reconnaissance (2001), and first eye penetrations into tropical cyclones (2005).
In 2000, Dr. McGeer began design of the SeaScan/ScanEagle miniature aircraft for long-endurance imaging reconnaissance. SeaScan made the longest-ever flight for a ship-based aircraft in 2004, while the GeoRanger variant made the first unmanned geomagnetic surveys, and the ScanEagle military variant was adopted by the US Marines and Navy. Dr. McGeer directed all of Insitu’s engineering throughout this period, with particular responsibility for conceptual and configuration design, performance, dynamics and control, avionics, algorithms, simulation, and onboard and ground software. By the time that Dr. McGeer left Insitu in 2005, the company had more than 100 employees and more than $20M/year in revenue, with recognition as one of the fastest-growing technology firms in Washington state. The company went on to be bought by Boeing in 2008 for a reported $400M. Dr. McGeer joined with his Stanford classmate and Insitu co-founder Andy von Flotow to start Aerovel in 2006, in which he is president and chief engineer. He has served on the FAA’s rulemaking committee for small unmanned aircraft systems, and is currently an affiliate faculty member in Aeronautics & Astronautics at the University of Washington, a director of Washington State’s Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation, and founder and committee chair for the W Prize.