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NZ UAV Maker goes belly-up

27 May 2008

For quite some time now I've been keeping an eye on the activities of TGR Helicorp, a Kiwi startup that promised some revolutionary manned and unmanned helicopter technology.

Right from the start, it all smelt a bit fishy but, since I am competing in the UAV sector of that market, it would not have been prudent or ethical for me to make too much in the way of comment.

But now, as I suspected, TGR has gone belly-up.

It may surprise you to know that I'm not at all happy about that.

Yes, it's a potential competitor (although we didn't really share markets) out of the game but it also means that the task of selling NZ as a credible manufacturer of UAV systems has just got a whole lot harder, and that's something we don't need.

First, why was I suspicious about the claims being made by TGR?

Well take a look at their website.

For a start, it's crap. No sensible commercial website will play a silly audio track automatically when it loads. That's for game sites, not someone attempting to establish credibility as a provider of military and civilian aerospace systems.

And then there's the way it told a million secrets about the company's lack of progress in the areas it professed to be working on.

On this page TGR proudly proclaims " Certification work on the "Bandit" and its associated test programs is underway with deliveries in 2006" and " Our test prototypes will be extensively flown this year and this site will be updated regularly".

And that's what this page has said for at least two years now.

Then there's this page in which it is proudly proclaimed "Technical details on the ARH-7 will be released throughout 2005" and "WATCH THIS SPACE!". Anyone who's been watching that space will have grown awfully tired of doing so over the past three years.

In fact, it seems that just about the only thing TGR has made is a set of composite body-shells and a trailer.

There's a lesson to be learned here. If you're going to use a website to promote your products or services, you really have to make sure it doesn't betray the fact that you're having difficulties or not meeting your own deadlines.

What should be an asset then suddenly becomes a real liability.

But TGR's diesel-powered helicopters and UAVs were never going to fly - their claims were just too ambitious and the closer the company came to collapse, the more ridiculous those claims became.

Most recently it had told the media, who never even bothered to check the feasibility of such claims and just lapped up the story (YouTube) that it would be building an Everest Rescue UAV helicopter called the Alpine Wasp. The TV3 news item linked to above is so poorly researched that they claim "because it's got a diesel engine so it doesn't need oxygen to run".

Well I'm sorry but I don't know anyone in the aerospace or aviation industries who for one minute believed that it would be possible to use a UAV helicopter as an alpine rescue vehicle.

For a start, most helicopters can't hover at even half the altitude of Everest so a diesel one would be even less practical. And, despite the smart stuff coming out of the UAV industry, the guidance and control systems needed for such pinpoint accuracy simply don't exist.

Every time I saw the exploits of TGR Helicorp in the news or on the UAV/defense wires I cringed. It was obvious that nobody in their right mind could believe the claims being made or ignore the deadlines being missed by TGR.

Now I don't really care if Trevor Rogers was living in a dreamworld but I do worry that the ridiculous claims made by TGR Helicorp have dented NZ's credibility as a developer and manufacturer of leading-edge UAV technology.

If I go out to hawk my products to the world, just what effect will the antics and ultimately the failure of TGR have on the way my products are perceived? And to make things worse, everyone knows that Trevor Rogers is a former MP so that (despite what we might think of politicians) gave TGR a credibility that might not have otherwise been bestowed on such a venture.

I dread the day I hear "Oh, you're from New Zealand, you weren't involved with that diesel helicopter UAV were you?" from a prospective purchaser.

Clearly there's nothing we can do to stop anyone from entering markets, making outrageous claims and then folding -- but what can be done to mitigate the effects that this kind of things has on the markets in which they operate?

Is this the next overhyped venture that may ultimately end up being an embarrassment to those engaged in associated industries? It certainly seems they've got the media drooling at their door, just as they did with TGR.

But if anything should come from this, perhaps it's that our media really ought to be a bit more proactive in researching the claims of those who proclaim to be on the "cutting edge" in some field or another.

Surely our broadcasters and publishers can afford to spend a little money to either hire tech-savvy researchers or just employ a real expert to give an opinion on the veracity of the claims being made by "the next big thing".

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