Aerovate: Developing the World’s First Passive Variable Pitch Propeller

From the left: Walter Kuch, Andrew Kondor, Tyler Bragnalo, Steven W. Boser (V.P. Sensenich)

Making and selling model planes can take you in many directions.  Just ask Andrew Kondor, this is his story.

A number of years ago Andrew Kondor decided to move from manufacturing model airplanes overseas , to pursuing the growing opportunity around unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). He did this by licensing the patented technology for the first passive variable pitch propeller for these aircraft.  This opportunity naturally connected to his passion for flight and aircraft. Aerovate was born.

UAVs are powered by fixed pitch propeller hubs. The benefits of changing the propeller’s pitch as it goes from climbing to cruising are increased efficiency, longer flights and higher rates of climb. In theory, simply scale up the technology and take the product market; but entrepreneurship never really is quite that simple.

Research into UAVs indicated the market was growing quickly and that there was an appetite for the benefits that a variable pitch hub offered.  The next step was move from a research prototype to a proven and tested technology ready for the market.  This would prove to be challenging as the development of the product had its ups and downs.  Firstly, getting the right expertise and quick access to a wind tunnel for testing was not easy or inexpensive.  To overcome the funding challenge Andrew successfully “pitched” his opportunity to a group of local angel investors.  This group has provided truly patient capital to Aerovate throughout the years of product development.   Secondly, Andrew has had unforeseen setbacks such as when the prototype hub system failed internally  in testing and when the wind tunnel lost all of his results.  Through it all, development continued.

During the testing and development process Aerovate has been able to utilize the capacity at MI-zone, the NWO Innovation Centre’s advanced manufacturing initiative. MI-zone has equipment that is well suited for prototyping this type of technology due to its ability to handle complex parts in a single process. Kam Valley Industries, the MI-zone operator has supported the product design and testing process.  Aerovate has also utilized capabilities from partner  Sensenich Propellers which is the leading composite propeller blade manufacturer based out of Florida. 

The final piece of the puzzle was the need to prototype and test the product. To do this in a timely fashion, access to a wind tunnel was essential.  Aerovate was able to negotiate with Confederation College for space at the ACE Centre house a wind tunnel that would accommodate his testing needs and allow students to use the tunnel for projects.  Over the past number of months Andrew has been working on the construction of the tunnel. It is now complete and the 50 foot tunnel generates winds up to 200 km/hour.

Aerovate is now using the tunnel to fine tune the performance of a propeller system that is designed for a customer from Spain.  The company plans to manufacture the hub systems in Thunder Bay and sell to the world.  Andrew states that there is potential to manufacture the small propeller blades in Thunder Bay with Sensenich as the design partner. 

Andrew’s key lessons learned from his journey  are:

  • Completely focusing on the end goal and minimizing other distractions is of critical importance
  • Identify the Engineering Expertise needed to move the project forward. 

We look forward to the continuing journey of Aerovate as positions itself to take flight into the market.