Central North American Trade Corridor Association

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  • 30 Aug 2017 12:30 PM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    Weyburn Regional Economic Development and Williston Economic Development share more than a similar acronym, they are driven by the same key industries - being agriculture, oil and gas and light manufacturing.  Both communities mirror the same historic past as well as current cultural diversity.  Being that they are only 200 km apart, they also share the same geographical elements such as climate and recreational opportunities. They are also both located within the Central North American Trade Corridor, separated by an international border.

    In part, due to these similarities, the cities of Weyburn Saskatchewan and Williston North Dakota have entered an informal “Sister City” relationship to promote economic development, tourism, educational, cultural and friendship exchanges between cities.  This relationship will provide both communities with a better understanding of their own community and will facilitate the freedom of exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences.  

    On August 31, representatives from Weyburn Regional Economic Development, City of Weyburn and Southeast College will be attending the 2017 Williston Economic Summit.  Representatives from the City of Weyburn look forward to the valuable networking and learning opportunities associated with this important event.

    Looking into the future, both cities are planning for continued opportunities to learn from each other and well as opportunities to develop strategic partnerships.  Growth and prosperity is a common goal for both communities and collaborating in this unique way will be a key component to success in reaching this goal.

     Submitted by:  Twila Walkeden, Executive Director, Weyburn Regional Economic Development Inc.


  • 28 Aug 2017 3:29 PM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    How long have you been involved with CNATCA?

    I became involved in CNATCA in 2014. I have been involved in helping with the events and have enjoyed working with the forward-thinking group that is involved in the organization.

    Tell us a bit about your personal background.  Where were you raised?  Education, Family, Career?

    I was raised in southwestern North Dakota, 60 miles straight south of where President Roosevelt ranched in North Dakota at Bowman. The White family homesteaded that part of North Dakota in 1906 and have farmed and ranched there since.  

    My dad, Dale, was a farmer and rancher until his death in 1990, and my mother, JoAnn, was a registered nurse until the loss of her eyesight forced her to quit.

    I was educated at Amor country school, Bowman High School and North Dakota State University. While at NDSU I was an honor student and received the outstanding senior award in the college of Agriculture my senior year.

    I returned to Bowman County to farm and ranch after graduation just as my family always had done. I ranched until 2000, then started a new career working at Paulson Seed, a specialty crop processor in Bowman. I worked my way to marketing manager, and the company exported to about 23 countries while I worked there. I was involved in the first US–Cuban Food and Agribusiness Exhibition in Havana, Cuba in September of 2002. The North Dakota delegation got to meet and personally dine with Fidel Castro. That was the first of my four trips to Cuba to sell peas to Alimport.

    In the fall of 2004, I was offered a job with the North Dakota Dry Pea and Lentil Association as their Marketing Director. Not long after I took the job, the organization merged with Montana and formed the Northern Pulse Growers Association as it is today.

    In the spring of 2007, the North Dakota Trade Office offered me a job as the International Agribusiness Manager, and I had the privilege to travel the world and represent North Dakota companies.

    In July of 2015, I resigned and started LL-International LLC as a private consultant and have continued to find markets for North Dakota products.

    In 2017, Les Paulson and I built a small oilseed crushing plant in Bowman, ND and named it Pulse Oils LLC. We are currently crushing safflower oil, and our product line will be called 17 THISTLES.

    I have been married to my wife, Kathryn, for 37 years. We’re blessed with two children—my son, John, and daughter, Laura.

    Describe your current projects that you are excited about and how they relate to CNATCA.

    My recent work in China has opened my eyes to why infrastructure development must never stop. In the last year, the Chinese have added 80,000km of four-lane roads and 20,000km of high-speed train rail with one goal in mind—to move product more easily. They are also looking at building a road to Europe and one to Bangladesh. As we look at renegotiating the NAFTA trade agreement, the Chinese are positioning themselves to be the leader in trade and development. They are building as we sit and watch and wonder why we cannot find the urgency to go forward in the United States.

    I am working in Mongolia and China as a consultant in beef development and meat imports to China. They are looking to build up the supply of high quality beef in China. The Chinese have built over a thousand slaughterhouses in the last ten years. They are looking to the future needs to sustain 1.5 billion people.

    I also am doing an Emerging Market Program for the USDA in Romania and the Ukraine. The program is an assessment on the need for better genetics in forage and beef production.

    I think producers along the CNATCA corridor can benefit in supplying beef and genetics to China. The meat imports have already started and the live-animal imports will soon follow.

    How can CNATCA support the sustainability of rural communities in your area?

    CNATCA’s goal has to be to help smaller communities and small businesses in rural areas compete in the world trade through more efficient and timely logistics. I also think the networking among members is beneficial to anyone who is looking to export or move product along the corridor.

    CNACTA has a very ambitious agenda, to be the conduit that brings trade, development and commerce to the Central North American Trade Corridor.  To accomplish that mission, what do you think CNATCA should be focused on over the next five years?

    Immediate attention should be on drafting a fair and free NAFTA trade bill that is fair to all three countries without starting a trade war and new tariffs and extra paperwork. Let’s make the corridor autonomous and with a high-speed rail that will be the focal point of future infrastructure development.

  • 26 Aug 2017 12:00 PM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    The City of Weyburn is a dynamic community that has both a strong and diverse economic base.

    Weyburn has long been established as a central figure for the upstream oil industry in Saskatchewan. Weyburn sits geographically atop the Bakken Oil Formation, one of the most prolific oil producing patches in the world.  Not surprising that you will find corporations such as Cenovus Energy, Crescent Point Energy and Enerplus calling our community home in terms of headquarter locations. 

    Agriculture continues to be the back bone of the community.  As the world looks to farmers to meet an ever increasing need for food supply, Weyburn’s position as one the of the largest inland grain gathering points in North America makes it a vital contributor to a global challenge.   Agri-business, agri-food companies and major farm implement dealers continue to thrive and expand into our community.   

    As the central community in Southeast Saskatchewan, Weyburn is the preferred locale for the public sector and professional regional head offices, contributing an enduring inventory of stable employment opportunities. Among the several key professional and public sector regional headquarters in Weyburn include: Sun Country Health Region, Southeast Cornerstone School Division, Southeast College Administrative Offices, and SaskPower Regional Distribution Center.  

    Convenient access to Weyburn is never a problem, not with three major highways crossing the city.  Highway 13, stretching from Lethbridge Alberta to Winnipeg Manitoba, is named the Red Coat Trail.  Much of its length follows the route of the original historic path taken in 1874 by the North-West Mounted Police in their quest to bring law and order to the Canadian West.  Highway 39 is one of Canada’s busiest highways and provides a major trucking and tourism route between the United States and Western Canada.  Lastly, Highway 35 (the Canam Highway) connects the US border to vast untouched lakes and rivers in Northern Saskatchewan, popular to nature seekers, hunters and anglers.  

    Weyburn’s proximity to Regina offers access to a wide range of support and services. Whether moving goods, services or people Weyburn companies enjoy access to an extensive transportation network with global reach. Weyburn is located only an hour from The Global Transportation Hub (GTH), which is Canada’s only autonomous and self-governing Inland Port Authority. The GTH provides rail access to all major Canadian ports, Gulf Coast ports and mid-western US trans-shipment points and trucking connections to all major networks. The ability to efficiently move goods makes Weyburn the ideal location for several major manufacturing firms.

    Weyburn is well defined by being a safe, friendly, healthy balanced lifestyle. A close-knit neighbourhood community with low crime rates, and economic strength makes Weyburn a great place for a family to live. In June of 2017 MoneySense Magazine named Weyburn as the best place to live on the Prairies and was the 5th best place to live overall in Canada.  This rating is due in part to our affordable housing, low rate of crime and low unemployment rate. In 2016 Expedia named Weyburn at 11th place on the ‘Friendliest Communities (and Towns) in Canada list.’  More evidence that Weyburn is a great place to live, do business in and visit.   Residents and visitors alike enjoy beautiful rural surroundings including lakes, parks, and connection to the agricultural lifestyle.

    Weyburn’s stable economic base, its transportation accessibility and its attractive labour force are why businesses are attracted to our community. While enjoying the luxuries of small city life, Weyburn’s central location in the Southeast maintains easy access to the convenience and services of larger centers.

    For more information on what Weyburn has to offer please visit our website at  You can also find up to date statistics on our community at   

  • 09 Jun 2017 10:00 AM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    U.S. Department of Transportation, Briefing Room

    With workers, industry and policy leaders on hand for closing event of Infrastructure Week, administration outlines vision for improving America’s roads, railways, and other infrastructure projects. 

    WASHINGTON – Surrounded by hundreds of infrastructure workers and stakeholders, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao joined President Donald J. Trump in the closing event of ‘Infrastructure Week’ at Department Headquarters in Washington. Secretary Chao announced the Department has published a federal register notice seeking public input in order to identify and reduce unnecessary regulatory obstacles that too often stand in the way of completing important infrastructure projects across the nation.

     “We are so fortunate because this President is a builder, he understands the challenges facing our country's infrastructure better than any national leader in recent memory,” said Secretary Chao. “The Department has published a notice in the Federal Register soliciting comments from the public and all stakeholders on ways to improve government permitting; if you have any ideas, we want to hear from you!”

    “The current process takes far too long,” said Secretary Chao. “Today, and all week, we have heard many recommendations from governors, mayors and other state officials who actually build things. A special DOT Task Force has already acted on what we’ve been hearing and identified dozens of ways to streamline the process.”

    U.S. Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Jeff Rosen chairs the Department’s Regulatory Reform Task Force, formed earlier this year in accordance with President Trump’s Executive Order 13777, which directs each agency to establish an RRTF to make recommendations to alleviate unnecessary regulatory burdens. 

    “This is part of a greater focus by the Administration to remain responsive to the needs of the public and industry, rather than pushing a ‘top down, government knows best’ approach to regulation,” said Deputy Secretary Rosen. “We expect this process will help us uncover ways to assist in better deploying infrastructure - ways we hadn’t even thought of.”

    DOT is requesting input because public and private project sponsors, engineering and construction professionals, related industry organizations, and other transportation stakeholders are likely to have valuable direct experience with the Department’s requirements. That experience supplements the Department’s employees’ expertise and may help identify when a requirement has become an unnecessary obstacle.

    The comment period will be open for 45 days at this link.  All comments will be available in the public docket and available for public review. The Department has made engaging the public, especially affected stakeholders, a top priority. 

  • 05 Jun 2017 10:00 AM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    Office of Governor, State of North Dakota

    Monday, June 5, 2017 - 3:00pm

    BISMARCK, N.D.  – Gov. Doug Burgum has accepted an invitation from the White House to meet Thursday with President Trump, senior administration officials, fellow governors, mayors and other stakeholders on ways to improve the nation’s infrastructure through partnerships.

    The invitation came after Burgum spent time with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao during Wednesday’s Drone Focus Conference in Fargo, including a one-on-one discussion about how federal investment in transportation infrastructure can have a greater economic impact locally. Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford will join Burgum for the June 8 meeting at the White House.

    “This is a tremendous opportunity to advocate for North Dakota priorities and highlight our transportation, energy and infrastructure issues to the highest office in the land,” Burgum said. “We are deeply grateful for the chance to help shape the national dialogue and make an impact with key decision makers on issues critical to our economic health at the local, state and national levels.”

    Because of the meeting’s timing, Burgum will be unable to attend Thursday’s Innovative Education Summit at Legacy High School in Bismarck, which will feature several national speakers and hundreds of participants from across the state.

    “The educators and community leaders participating in the summit have my highest respect and confidence,” Burgum said. “Their dedication to our students is evidenced by the more than 500 slated to attend. We all want to help students compete and succeed in the 21st century economy, and our shared interest in transforming our education system means this will be the first of many opportunities to engage on this important topic.”

    The summit is free and registration is still open. Links to registration information and a list of speaker bios are available at


  • 31 May 2017 10:00 AM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    U.S. Department of Transportation

    Drone Focus Conference

    Remarks Prepared for Delivery by
    U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao
    Drone Focus Conference
    Fargo, North Dakota
    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    Thank you, Sen. Hoeven, for that gracious introduction, and for inviting me to the second annual Drone Focus conference—an invitation I was delighted to accept.  I am so glad to be in your state after hearing so much about it from you and Mikey [Mrs. Mical Hoeven]!  My husband, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and I treasure our friendship with you and Mikey.

    Let me also recognize Governor Burgum, who is here today as well.  And let me note that today is also the very first National Autonomous Vehicles Day.

    North Dakota has been building its drone friendly reputation for some time.  In 2013 the Grand Forks Airbase became a drones-only facility.  Drone pilots stationed at the base have flown reconnaissance missions around the world, as well as border patrol missions along the US-Canadian and, at times, the US-Mexican border.

    The base is also home to GrandSky, which uses the uncluttered skies of North Dakota to conduct Beyond Visual Line of Sight tests of larger unmanned aerial vehicles.

    The Center for UAS Research at the University of North Dakota is also making a name for itself in this fast-paced industry.  The Department is working with the University of North Dakota, and many other state and local partners, to develop a sound strategy that will help the emerging UAS industry grow and innovate, while maintaining the safety and security the public deserves.

    As you may know, this Administration recently announced its FY 2018 budget, which includes a proposal to begin a multi-year effort to modernize our country’s air traffic control system.  Currently, the aviation industry is experiencing a rapid evolution of technology and a significant increase of volume at the same time. More people than ever before are traveling by air, making the airspace more complex and congested every day.

    By 2020, it is estimated that our airspace will have to support one billion passengers each year.  And air freight is expected to more than double over the next three decades. Without change, our current system will not be able to keep pace with those numbers.  Already, congestion is taking its toll on the current system.  It takes 20 percent more time to fly between certain cities today than it did 25 years ago. Our National Air space System must be able to accommodate these growing demands, or run the risk of falling behind the rest of the world in terms of efficiency and safety.

    This Administration’s proposal would separate the operation of our country’s air traffic control system from the safety oversight functions of the FAA.  Air traffic control operations would be split off as an independent, non-profit cooperative, while the FAA and its safety oversight functions would remain at the Department of Transportation.  A key goal is to increase the capacity of our national airspace with the latest technology, so it can accommodate the expected increase in traffic as well as new entrants like drones.

    Smart new transportation technology needs smart infrastructure.  And we need the smartest infrastructure possible to allow manned and unmanned aircraft and vehicles to safely share airspace and roads.  The line between aerospace and terrestrial transportation technology is beginning to blur. So it makes sense to ensure that our infrastructure can accommodate these developments. This means an appropriate regulatory framework that can keep pace with rapidly changing technology.

    That is why the Administration is working collaboratively to resolve some of the unique policy and legal issues involved in safely integrating drones into our airspace.

    A key issue in regulating drones is security.  How can we defend these systems from hackers?  And what can be done to thwart terrorist attempts to use this technology? 

    Law enforcement and security authorities need to be able to determine whether drones are operating legally.  But how much information is needed? And how can agencies get the information they need without violating the rights of the drone operator?  And how should authorities mitigate a drone threat without putting people or property on the ground in jeopardy?

    These are difficult technical and legal issues.  

    There is also the question of airspace.  Legally, the FAA has regulatory primacy over all U.S. airspace.  How do we manage the issue of drones flown at low-altitudes, far from airports or federal facilities?  How much authority should local municipalities or county governments have over drone operations?  And what about drones operating beyond the operator’s line of sight?  The Department has launched an initiative to start answering these questions about airspace.

    Recently, the FAA published more than 130 UAS facility maps to help streamline authorizations in the airspace around some of our busiest airports. These maps will help the industry and the FAA work together to streamline what has been a labor intensive and sometimes frustrating process. The maps help drone operators improve the quality of the information they submit to the FAA, and help the FAA to process airspace requests more quickly. 

    Now, to be clear, the maps are informational. They do not give permission to fly drones. Operators, will still need to submit an online airspace authorization application. But the maps are an important step in making it easier and more routine to conduct “over the horizon” or “beyond line of sight” UAS operations.

    More maps will be released in the coming months to support the development of a low-altitude authorization system. Working with private sector companies, the FAA is developing requirements to exchange data with third parties that will enable real-time authorization for drone operations in controlled airspace. This collaboration is laying the foundation for a future UAS traffic management system that relies on cooperative interaction between drone operators. 

    The FAA is also crafting a pilot program designed to let local communities try different regulatory concepts for controlling drone activity. This will generate data and best practices that the Department can use to help ensure the safety of people and property on the ground and in the air.

    For example, the FAA is working with a consortium of leading UAS research institutions, as well as industry and government partners, on a series of studies that will help inform the parameters for safe drone flights over people.

    Safety and security are Department priorities, so the FAA is also studying technologies that can be used for drone detection around airports.  And the FAA recently hosted an Unmanned Aircraft Security roundtable to discuss challenges and solutions regarding this technology with key stakeholders. Communication and collaboration among all stakeholders is extremely important in addressing legitimate security and safety concerns.  That’s why the FAA has also established the Drone Advisory Committee, which is helping to identify solutions to advancing UAS integration. 

    The FAA has also formed a new Aviation Rulemaking Committee, which will convene this summer to recommend technologies for remotely identifying and tracking unmanned aircraft during operations. The recommendations produced will help pave the way for increasingly complex drone flights, such as those over people and beyond visual line of sight operations. 

    Please contact Michael Britt, my Senior Advisor for ATO Modernization, for more information on the expansion of UAS operations in the National Airspace System.  We invite your input and feedback.   You may also contact Earl Lawrence, the Director of the FAA’s UAS Integration Office, or email

    Finally, let me note that emerging technology requires a regulatory approach that ensures safety, while encouraging innovation and preserving creativity.  This last point is especially important.  Creativity and innovation are part of the great genius of America—one of its hallmarks.  We must safeguard and nurture this legacy.  But it is also critical that Silicon Valley and other innovators step up and share with the public their understanding of new technology, and address legitimate public concerns about safety and privacy.

    The integration of drones into our national airspace will be the biggest technological challenge to aviation since the beginning of the Jet Age.  Drones are already used by our military, by law enforcement to patrol our borders or conduct searches and in photography, film making, precision agriculture surveying, precision agriculture for crop dusting, new media gathering, infrastructure inspections and much more.

    Our job is to prepare the way for this new technology, so it can be deployed safely and usher in a new era aviation service, accessibility and ingenuity.

    So thank you for inviting me here today. And thank you for everything you are doing to help enable this exciting new technology.

  • 03 May 2017 5:56 PM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    CNATCA plays major role in building consensus. Published in Prairie Business Magazine.

    Click on link to read article.

    State Representative Dan Ruby (R-Minot,ND)

  • 30 Jun 2016 9:30 AM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    Welcome to Larry Page’s Secret Flying-Car Factories

    Ashlee Vance and Brad Stone BradStone

     Bloomberg Businessweek

    June 9, 2016 — 4:00 AM CDT

    Share on FacebookShare on Twitter1465387416_flyingcar

    Illustration by Steph Davidson

    Three years ago, Silicon Valley developed a fleeting infatuation with a startup called Zee.Aero. The company had set up shop right next to Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., which was curious, because Google tightly controls most of the land in the area. Then a reporter spotted patent filings showing Zee.Aero was working on a small, all-electric plane that could take off and land vertically—a flying car.

    In the handful of news articles that ensued, all the startup would say was that it wasn’t affiliated with Google or any other technology company. Then it stopped answering media inquiries altogether. Employees say they were even given wallet-size cards with instructions on how to deflect questions from reporters. After that, the only information that trickled out came from amateur pilots, who occasionally posted pictures of a strange-looking plane taking off from a nearby airport.

    Featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, June 13 - 26, 2016. Subscribe now.

    Featured in Bloomberg Businessweek, June 13 - 26, 2016.Subscribe now.

    Illustrations: Ana Benaroya (flying car); Armando Veve

    Turns out, Zee.Aero doesn’t belong to Google or its holding company, Alphabet. It belongs to Larry Page, Google’s co-founder. Page has personally funded Zee.Aero since its launch in 2010 while demanding that his involvement stay hidden from the public, according to 10 people with intimate knowledge of the company. Zee.Aero, however, is just one part of Page’s plan to usher in an age of personalized air travel, free from gridlocked streets and the cramped indignities of modern flight. Like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, Page is using his personal fortune to build the future of his childhood dreams.

    The Zee.Aero headquarters, located at 2700 Broderick Way, is a 30,000-square-foot, two-story white building with an ugly, blocky design and an industrial feel. Page initially restricted the Zee.Aero crew to the first floor, retaining the second floor for a man cave worthy of a multibillionaire: bedroom, bathroom, expensive paintings, a treadmill-like climbing wall, and one of SpaceX’s first rocket engines—a gift from his pal Musk. As part of the secrecy, Zee.Aero employees didn’t refer to Page by name; he was known as GUS, the guy upstairs. Soon enough, they needed the upstairs space, too, and engineers looked on in awe as GUS’s paintings, exercise gear, and rocket engine were hauled away.

    “What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible”

    Zee.Aero now employs close to 150 people. Its operations have expanded to an airport hangar in Hollister, about a 70-minute drive south from Mountain View, where a pair of prototype aircraft takes regular test flights. The company also has a manufacturing facility on NASA’s Ames Research Center campus at the edge of Mountain View. Page has spent more than $100 million on Zee.Aero, say two of the people familiar with the company, and he’s not done yet. Last year a second Page-backed flying-car startup, Kitty Hawk, began operations and registered its headquarters to a two-story office building on the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac about a half-mile away from Zee’s offices. Kitty Hawk’s staffers, sequestered from the Zee.Aero team, are working on a competing design. Its president, according to 2015 business filings, was Sebastian Thrun, th­e godfather of Google’s self-driving car program and the founder of research division Google X. Page and Google declined to speak about Zee.Aero or Kitty Hawk, as did Thrun.

    Flying cars, of course, are ridiculous. Lone-wolf inventors have tried to build them for decades, with little to show for their efforts besides disappointed investors and depleted bank accounts. Those failures have done little to lessen the yearning: In the nerd hierarchy of needs, the flying car is up there with downloadable brains and a working holodeck.

    But better materials, autonomous navigation systems, and other technical advances have convinced a growing body of smart, wealthy, and apparently serious people that within the next few years we’ll have a self-flying car that takes off and lands vertically—or at least a small, electric, mostly autonomous commuter plane. About a dozen companies around the world, including startups and giant aerospace manufacturers, are working on prototypes. Furthest along, it appears, are the companies Page is quietly funding. “Over the past five years, there have been these tremendous advances in the under­lying technology,” says Mark Moore, an aeronautical engineer who’s spent his career designing advanced aircraft at NASA. “What appears in the next 5 to 10 years will be incredible.”

    Northern California in particular has had a long fascination with flying cars. In 1927 a now mostly forgotten ­engineer named Alexander Weygers first began thinking up the design for a flying saucer that could zip between rooftops. In 1945 he received a patent for what he described as a “­discopter,” a vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) machine with room inside for passengers to walk around, cook, and sleep. He depicted smaller versions landing in pods atop buildings in downtown San Francisco. No discopters were built, though it’s believed that the U.S. Army, which paid visits to Weygers’s compound in Carmel Valley, Calif., tinkered with a prototype.

    Today, the world’s premier ­flying-car enthusiast is Paul Moller, 79, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis. Fifty years ago, when he was teaching mechanical and aeronautical engineering, he developed a specific vision: an aircraft you could park in your garage, drive a few blocks to a small runway, then take skyward. He tested his first prototype, the XM-2, in 1966. The XM-2 resembled a flying saucer with a seat at its center protected by a plastic bubble. It managed an altitude of 4 feet, while graduate students held it steady with ropes. “We were worried if the machine got out of control, we might kill a few people,” Moller says.

    “Self-flying aircraft is so much easier than what the auto companies are trying to do with self-driving cars”

    In 1989 his M200X made it to 50 feet above the ground. Then came the M150 Skycar, the M400 Skycar, the 100LS, the 200LS, the Neuera 200, and the Firefly, all variations on the same Jetsonian idea. In January 2000, Moller gave a speech on flying cars at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the birthplace of the graphical user interface and, for nerds, sacred ground. Afterward, an engineer in his late 20s walked up and said he was interested in the concept but was skeptical that streetworthy personal aircraft were technically feasible; at the time, Moller didn’t recognize young Larry Page.

    Moller kept trying. He says he burned through more than $100 million developing his designs and declared personal bankruptcy in 2009.

    That same year, Moore, the NASA researcher, published a paper describing a concept plane called the Puffin. Moore’s big idea was to use electric motors, which are quieter and safer and have far fewer moving parts than internal combustion engines or conventional turbines. “By going to electric propulsion, you get rid of the vast majority of the complexity, cost, and unreliability,” Moore says. “This is why com­panies looking at this area aren’t insane.” Moore credits Musk’s Tesla and other automakers with advancing the technology. “Electric motors were mostly used in industrial settings where they were stationary, and no one cared about their weight that much,” Moore says. “It wasn’t until the automotive industry got interested that they started to get more lightweight.”

    Carmakers invested in other areas, too, that are helpful for building small electric planes, particularly batteries and the semiconductors that control them. Self-driving systems, like the kind Google uses in its Koala cars, are perhaps a decade away from mainstream use on the roads, but they may already be good enough for the skies. “Self-flying aircraft is so much easier than what the auto companies are trying to do with self-driving cars,” Moore says.

    Moore’s paper circulated, rekindling excitement. Sometime in 2009, a small group of engineers had begun meeting in Silicon Valley to discuss funding an electric-plane project. One of them was JoeBen Bevirt, a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who had studied under Moller at UC Davis. Another was Ilan Kroo, an aeronautics and astronautics professor at Stanford. And another was Page. Although it initially looked as if they might all team up, Kroo and Page broke off to start Zee.Aero. Alone, Bevirt founded Joby Aviation, a company he hopes will beat Zee.Aero to market and prove that his efforts with Moller—and the older man’s life’s work—weren’t in vain.

    Bevirt owns a 500-acre compound near Santa Cruz, Calif. To get there, you turn onto idyllic California State Route 1 and drive past the boardwalk, a few blocks of strip malls, and 15 miles of undeveloped, windswept coastal dunes. Then you turn onto a dirt road, pass a lake and a grove of towering redwoods, and walk through gardens overflowing with lavender and roses. It’s here that Bevirt has built a series of workshops, plus housing for about half of his 35 employees.

    Bevirt grew up nearby on an electricity-free commune where his mom worked as a midwife and his father built custom homes. From a young age, he learned his way around toolboxes and construction sites, and was an avid reader. After consuming the sci-fi classic The Forever Formula in elementary school, he decided he wanted to build the kind of personal aircraft the book’s hero flew and persuaded a friend to help. “We built lots of prototypes, but they always crashed and burned,” he says. They shifted to custom bikes.

    The flying-car dream stuck with Bevirt as he entered UC Davis in 1991 to study mechanical engineering, and he quickly found himself working for Moller, building one prototype after another. Bevirt eventually concluded their shared dream wouldn’t be feasible until battery and motor technology improved. He figured he’d need to wait 20 years. “Paul had been working on this for 30 years, and he was 50 years ahead of his time,” he says.

    Bevirt got his bachelor’s, and then a master’s in mechanical engineering from Stanford. He worked in biotech after graduation, co-founding a company called Velocity11 that built robots to sequence DNA. His next company, called Joby (his childhood nickname), sold camera accessories such as flexible plastic tripods. Joby turned Bevirt into a multimillionaire. In 2008 he started Joby Energy, a maker of airborne wind turbines whose technology Google later acquired. The 20-year mark was approaching, so in 2009 he also used some of his wealth to buy the 500 acres and start Joby Aviation.

    Its headquarters is an engineer’s fantasyland. The focal point is a large wooden building where two dozen workers sit at a few rows of desks jammed with computers. Aside from the clusters of large black monitors, the place feels more like a barn than an office. Aircraft prototypes hang from the ceiling, as does a thick climbing rope for exercise. In the open kitchen, abutting a long redwood dining table in one corner, a cook uses ingredients from the nearby gardens to prepare three meals a day. While the smell of a Malaysian curry fills the room, a banjo twangs from speakers overhead.

    The manufacturing happens at a series of buildings about 100 yards downhill, past gardens and an outdoor clay pizza oven. One of the buildings is an airy warehouse with a giant oven inside—but this one isn’t for pizza. It’s used to cure the ­carbon-fiber bodies of the planes and looks like a Quonset hut. Former members of Oracle’s America’s Cup sailing team, some of the world’s leading materials experts, oversee the curing process, baking the carbon fiber at about 194F. In another building, engineers build ­cantaloupe-size electric motors; in a third, they test electronics; in a fourth, they put the finishing touches on wings and other parts. Out back, there’s a large truck with an extendible arm atop its trailer like a cherry picker, which hoists propellers high into the air so engineers can perform wind tests while driving down a road at high speed. Robotic prototypes buzz around.

    Bevirt funded Joby Aviation by himself until last year, when he was joined by Paul Sciarra, one of the co-founders of Pinterest. Sciarra grew up in New Jersey, taught himself to code, hit it big with Pinterest, then went looking for something new to throw himself into. He, too, concluded that electric motors and batteries appeared to have applications well beyond the auto industry. “The goal is to build a product that impacts the lives of lots of people,” Sciarra says. “Not just folks that are amateur pilots or wealthy, but everyone.”

    Sciarra and Bevirt hope to begin flying a human-scale prototype plane later this year. They won’t give the exact ­specifications but suggest that it could hold, say, a family of four and travel 100 miles or so on a full charge. The vehicle looks like a plane-helicopter hybrid packed with propellers, about eight mounted on the wings and tail. For takeoff and landing, the propellers hang horizontally like a helicopter’s and rotate for forward propulsion once in the air. Joby Aviation has already built smaller prototypes and has models of the plane’s body, wings, and propellers scattered about the manufacturing facilities. Bevirt and Sciarra see the vehicle taking off from parking garages, roofs, or areas alongside highways. They want to offer flights as an Uber-like service—summon a plane when you need it.

    The Joby aircraft looks similar to other vehicles being built around the world. In May the German company E-volo conducted manned flights of its Volocopter, a two-seat aircraft powered by 18 propellers. Other flying-car startups include AeroMobil, Lilium Aviation, and Terrafugia. Even Airbus has built a two-seater prototype at its Silicon Valley labs, say two people familiar with the designs.

    In 2013, Red Bull held one of its Flugtag competitions in Long Beach, Calif. Flugtag is a televised spectacle where hobbyists see how far they can launch their homemade flying machines off a dock. It’s more about entertainment than sustained flight—the contraptions generally dive straight into the water, and everyone laughs. At this one, though, a group called the Chicken Whisperers stunned the assembled crowd. Dressed in full-body baby-chick outfits, the team pushed its glider off the dock and watched as it cruised 258 feet, breaking the previous record of 229 feet. The chickens danced. They clucked. They took a swim in the water. They were all Zee.Aero employees in disguise, having fun, trying out some designs.

    In the six years since its founding, Zee.Aero has hired some of the brightest young aerospace designers, software engineers, and experts in motor and battery hardware. They’ve come from places such as SpaceX, NASA, and Boeing, and they’re all chasing after the goal presented succinctly on Zee.Aero’s spare website: “We’re changing personal aviation.”

    At its outset, Zee.Aero was led by Kroo, the Stanford aerospace professor. He wrote the original Zee.Aero patent, No. 9,242,738, which shows a strange-looking one-seater aircraft with a long, narrow body. Behind the craft’s cockpit, rows of horizontal propellers run along both sides of the body of the plane to handle the VTOL work. There’s also a wing at the back with two more propellers that add forward thrust.

    Zee.Aero worked on this design for a couple of years. Small, computer-controlled versions of the aircraft were photographed by reporters and hobbyists sitting in the parking lot at 2700 Broderick Way. None of the prototypes were big enough to fit a human.

    Over time, the company realized this might not be the best design, according to three former Zee.Aero employees. Page also grew dissatisfied with the rate of progress. In 2015, Kroo returned to teach at Stanford full time but continued to advise Zee.Aero as “principal scientist,” while the com­pany’s engineering chief, Eric Allison, took over as chief executive officer. Under Allison, the company began work on a simpler, more conventional-looking design, now coming to life at the Hollister Municipal Airport.

    Hollister is a city of about 35,000 nestled among garlic and artichoke farms. Its airport is popular among amateur pilots because of favorable winds and a lack of commercial air traffic. There’s a flight school, a sky-diving business, and a few run-down buildings. The least shabby structure is Building 19, which has been taken over by a dozen or so Zee.Aero workers.

    People working at the airport have caught glimpses of two Zee.Aero craft in recent months

    The airport is open for business from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, but Zee.Aero employees frequently run test flights when no one else is around. Nonetheless, people working at the airport have caught glimpses of two Zee.Aero craft in recent months. Both have a narrow body, a bulbous cockpit with room for one person upfront, and a wing at the back. In industry lingo, the planes are pushers, with two propellers in the rear. One of the prototypes looks like a small conventional plane; the other has spots for small propellers along the main body, three per side.

    When the aircraft take off, they sound like air raid sirens.

    The people at the airport haven’t heard Page’s name ­mentioned, but they long ago concluded Zee.Aero’s owner is super rich. Zee.Aero employees receive catered lunches—sometimes $900 worth of barbecue from Armadillo Willy’s, a local chain. Recently, the company purchased a $1 million helicopter to fly alongside the planes and gather data.

    For Page, this project is deeply personal. He’s been known to spend evenings with Musk, both men thinking aloud about ways to fundamentally change transportation. Musk wants to build an upscale electric VTOL jet; Page wants the down-market version. In an interview with a Bloomberg Businessweek reporter a couple of years ago, Page confessed that he longed to take more risks like his industrialist friend. He wanted to dabble with new forms of investment outside the confines of Google and back projects that focused on atoms, not bits. “There’s a lot of money going into internet startup kinds of things, which is great,” he said. “But for some of the real problems we face, I think we need other kinds of investments, too. I have young kids, so I would like them to be safe. I’d like for pedestrians to be much safer. I’d like for blind people and old people and young people to get around.”

    The former Zee.Aero employees describe the company as a fun place to work but don’t downplay the serious expectations from Page. He wants the flying-car future, and he wants it now. If the atmosphere grew tense with Kroo’s departure, it didn’t lighten up when the Kitty Hawk team arrived.

    Kitty Hawk has about a dozen engineers, including some Zee.Aero veterans. Others came from Aerovelo, a startup whose claim to fame was winning the $250,000 Sikorsky Prize in 2013, for building a human-powered helicopter that could stay aloft for more than a minute. Kitty Hawk employees include Emerick Oshiro, who did self-driving car work at Google, and David Estrada, who handled legal affairs for Google X. They all listed the company as their employer on LinkedIn until they were contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek, at which point they erased any mention of Kitty Hawk from their profiles.

    Page has drawn a line separating his two flying-car teams, employees say. It’s common for the Zee.Aero engineers to speculate over lunch about what their Kitty Hawk counterparts are up to. The former Zee.Aero employees think Page wanted to see if a smaller team could move faster, and the added pressure on Zee.Aero didn’t hurt. Two people say Kitty Hawk is working on something that resembles a giant version of a quadcopter drone.

    There’s no guarantee that Kitty Hawk’s or Zee.Aero’s or anyone else’s flying cars will ever take to the skies. There are still technology problems to solve, regulatory hurdles to cross, and urgent safety questions to answer. Page once vowed to a colleague that if his involvement in the sector ever became public, he might pull support from the companies.

    Here’s hoping that’s not true. If nothing else, these projects show that bold, some might say far-fetched, invention is alive and well in Silicon Valley. The place that spent the past decade focused on social network apps has trained its engineering powers on robots, cars, and now aviation. “We were promised flying cars, and instead what we got was 140 characters,” a local venture capitalist once put it. Page and his cohorts are trying to get us both.

  • 25 May 2016 3:25 PM | Central North American Trade Corridor Association CNATCA (Administrator)

    Written by Norm Park

    There were nine panelists with varying interests and spheres of influence, two keynote presenters who took bold looks into the near future and 60 or more delegates, many of them from North and South Dakota, as well as southern Saskatchewan. They gathered in the main conference room at the Saskatchewan Energy Training Institute (SETI) in Estevan on May 18 to discuss the future of an international trade corridor that includes Mexico, six American states, most of Saskatchewan and eastern Alberta. They talked about a corridor that will embrace technology that most business buyers and sellers and the general public have yet to fully comprehend. The talk was futuristic in nature, but very real in terms of potential applications as the Central North American Trade Corridor Association (CNATCA) conducted this futuristic look on a local educational campus. READ MORE

    Steve Pedersen, former president of the CNATCA, served as co-host for the idea exchanges along with Estevan Mayor Roy Ludwig. 

 CNATCA is a 501(c)(6) non-profit organization. Phone or Fax 605.299.2679              

Contact CNATCA:

PO Box 2506
Bismarck, ND 58502-2506


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