Jed Smith is Texan by birth, physicist by education, engineer by experience, and a sailor by choice. He has made a career out of creating new devices that allow small businesses and research scientists to explore new areas. His past work includes projects from autonomous ocean-going vehicles, GPS precision navigation, high energy plasma physics experiments, to interactive kiosks. Jed enjoys solving challenging problems in a wide range of disciplines that afford him opportunities to explore new places around the world.
Mark Williamson is a former Texan by choice, aerospace engineer by education, systems engineer by experience, and a cyclist by obsession. He has applied his skills of systems modeling, process development, and operational methods to mission-critical aerospace endeavors. Mark has served as a Space Shuttle flight controller, high-altitude balloon engineer, and unmanned aerial vehicle integrator. Mark enjoys applying a holistic systems and operations approach to projects that only get once chance for success.
We met in a Human Factors engineering class at Oregon State University and formed Smith & Williamson to do engineering consulting. But consulting without a Rolodex of people to call was our first challenge. Two guys with Masters’ Degrees do not equal an Engineering Consulting firm.
So, we picked high-altitude ballooning because we both had prior ballooning experience and remotely-operated (ocean) vehicles. We picked a niche that no one had developed a commercial product for – not that we were aware of anyway. We knew we were on the coattails of the popularity of drones, but we were not interested in those associated problems, like privacy invasion and charges of reckless endangerment.
Our first test flight was in the Alvord Desert in southeastern Oregon. And it worked! We flew our balloon at an altitude of 20 meters and performed a series of maneuvers to demonstrate float stability and rapid vertical rate changes. That test flight was a proof of concept for our Boomerang Balloon Flight Control System.
We then spent the next year developing a commercial system. And we got to buy a 3D printer to aid in development! Our two initial customers were a university wanting to conduct acoustic research on volcanoes in South America; and a NASA researcher looking at the Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer in India. That’s when we realized we needed to offer training and flight services.
We’ve flown our Boomerang System for a photographer seeking quality photos at high altitudes, a NOAA researcher interested in ice particle formation in low altitude clouds in the Arctic, and for the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology to record and survey bird populations.
When two engineers start a business, they find out quickly where their strengths lie. We love to make things. We hate to market things. We like to show what our things can do. But, as you can imagine, we’ve had some challenges. Our first poppet valve with a worm-gear worked great at the desert, but stopped working at -80˚C. We’ve had balloons get stuck in trees, stuck in mud where a horseback rider had to retrieve it, we’ve accidentally dropped a balloon in a river, and we had a balloon burst prematurely at launch in a thunderstorm. But we have persisted and persevered. And our customers have been thrilled.
We’d love to talk about your next flight. Contact us today!