MANASSAS, Va. (WRIC) — A new drone manufacturer is aiming to open its doors in Northern Virginia, with backing from Governor Glenn Youngkin — and the head of a massive defense contractor with a checkered past.
RapidFlight is headed by Jay Gundlach, formerly of FlightHouse, an Oregon-based drone engineering firm. According to Youngkin, Gundlach will head RapidFlight as it invests $5.5 million in a 25,000 square-foot facility in Manassas, aiming to create 119 jobs.
“Virginia is uniquely positioned to lead the unmanned systems industry, and RapidFlight is on the cutting edge of developments in this innovative technology sector,” Youngkin said.
Virginia has seen a surge in business around so-called “Autonomous Unmanned Aircraft,” known almost universally as drones. That’s in part due to the nature of the industry, which is deeply tied to the U.S. Military, by far the biggest customer for the emerging technology.
“Virginia is an important state, providing unique access to decision makers, a world-class workforce, unmanned test infrastructure, and an advanced materials industry,” Gundlach said.
In Afghanistan and Iraq, the technology has been used to expand military operations there even as ground troops were withdrawn, a practice that has led to a large number of civilian casualties. But in Virginia, the technology has also found civilian applications, such as package delivery.
This also isn’t the first time the state has invested its own money in such projects. Earlier this year, the commonwealth shelled out $5 million for a drone testing facility in Dinwiddie County.
In his announcement on Friday, Youngkin indicated that the company would receive assistance through the Virginia Jobs Investment Partnership, designed to pay for human resources and other overhead hiring costs as the company gets off the ground. However, it’s unclear how much money the company has been promised, because a public database of such grants hasn’t been updated since 2019, and the proposal was not included in VJIP’s last yearly report.
As for what RapidFlight will actually do — well, that’s less clear. Youngkin’s announcement and Rapidflight’s own website are vague about who the firm’s clients will ultimately be. However, the statement did indicate that at least some of the firm’s business is likely to be in the defense industry.
“RapidFlights high-performance systems are designed and engineered to meet the evolving national security and private sector demands of the United States and its allies,” it read.
The single federal contract the company has so far received was a $37,500 contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to redesign the gliders they use to deploy high-altitude weather instruments.
RapidFlight is backed by Stephen Feinberg, a billionaire investor and head of DynCorp, a major defense contractor worth billions. Feinberg was a major Trump donor appointed by the former president to a high-level oversight commission on national security.
His company, DynCorp, has been embroiled in scandal after scandal over the last twenty years, from repeated accusations of child prostitution against its employees to massive mismanagement of U.S. funds during the occupation of Iraq.