From Manned to Unmaned Technology

An article written by Jordi Santacana, CEO & Founder of CATUAV

Everything started in 1998 with this photo. During the 80s and 90s I had been enthusiastically participating in the boom of ultralight sport flying, that is nothing more than the flight for the masses. At last, it was not necessary to be rich to have a small plane and fly! Before internet, to be connected to the crazy community of people who like me were building planes at home you had to read many magazines. I remember how I was eagerly awaiting the arrival in the box of Sport Aviation, Experimenter, Kitplanes, Avion Revue … It was in one of those magazines that in the summer of 1998 I saw this photo and read a story that left me in shock: a small model plane (at that time we did not speak of drones) automatically piloted and guided by GPS had crossed the Atlantic! This news had for me and for the whole community of aviators the same impact that Lindbergh’s flight had in 1927, it was the starting point of the race for the technological development of unmanned commercial aviation.

In 1995 I founded Aeroplans Blaus, a company dedicated to sport aviation accessories for airplane homebuilders like me. It was one of the first online companies. As a complement to my company’s catalog, my father, my brother and me designed and manufactured electronic devices to respond to the demand for certain items that the market did not offer. In this line we developed a system of intercommunication that was very successful because it was the first that allowed to attend cell phone calls. We also developed an automatic pilot designed for ultralight aircraft that, for reasons of security, we decided to test with a model airplane. This first model worked nicely, almost unwillingly we already had our first drone! It was year 2000.

At that time, a friend of mine was working for an engineering company called INDRA, a huge company with more than 40.000 workers based in 125 countries. My friend knew about INDRA’s interest in developing a small video surveillance drone and it turned out that I already had one working! He quickly proposed to travel to Madrid to make a demo flight for the CEO, and without knowing how I came across a contract to continue developing the system. This allowed CATUAV to be founded. At last I had a decent budget that allowed to hire the first staff and acquire the equipment and instruments to work in good conditions. During the first crazy years, working 14 hours a day, I combined the two businesses, but finally I decided to transfer Aeroplans Blaus (link) to my brother Josep and dedicate myself full time to CATUAV.

This stage of CATUAV lasted about four years, from 2003 to 2007, in which the only client of our young company was INDRA. During those years it was impossible to buy, at least at an affordable price, the basic systems to build our own UAS, for that reason we developed our own autopilot, mission control software, telemetry system, platform … covering the entire technology chain. That base has given us the independence and ability to develop custom systems that we now offer to all our customers. When the relationship with INDRA vanished, CATUAV was already prepared to fly with its own wings.