HomeFort Worth drone developer acquired by British firm for $24 million

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James Osborne

A drone manufactured by Aero Kinetics, based in Fort Worth.

A Fort Worth-based drone developer is being snatched up by a British firm.

Aero Kinetics announced Thursday it was being acquired by Strat Aero, which is run out of London, for $24 million.

The relatively low-priced deal comes as hype grows around the unmanned-aircraft market, as companies explore the technology’s application for everything from home deliveries to aerial inspections of pipelines and wind turbines.

Aero Kinetics CEO W. Hulsey Smith, the scion of one of Fort Worth’s oldest families, described the deal as one that would allow him and his 50-odd U.S. employees to expand their efforts to make drones a regular facet of everyday life.

“They’re no longer our toys; they’re our tools,” he said. “Imagine a world where we can move defibrillators faster than ever before, keep construction workers from doing roof inspections. We could find kids lost in the woods.”

In an investor presentation earlier this year, Strat Aero cited a study by an industry group that said the unmanned aircraft market would grow to more than $80 billion globally by 2025.

For now though, drones remain a relatively small industry in which startups must try and compete against aerospace giants like Lockheed Martin and Boeing, which have moved quickly on the technology. Strat Aero reported $620,000 in revenues last year, according to the London Stock Exchange.

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Smith, who is descended from E. M. Daggett — known as the “Father of Fort Worth,” according to the Fort Worth Public Library — said he founded Aero Kinetics in 2003 while still a student at Southern Methodist University.

After Smith was injured while playing football for the Mustangs, his father advised him to pursue a business career in aerospace (his family owns the investment firm The Smith Family Office). Smith started out leasing private jets and pilots to corporations with Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks one of his first customers.

But as drone technology emerged, Smith, now 33, shifted gears. Aero Kinetics began actually building their own drones, which they both sell and operate for clients. Smith declined to say how many drones he had sold, saying only “it’s a tremendous number.”

He added the business was growing rapidly, pointing to a report by Strat Aero that it had $20 million in contracts “in the pipeline.”

“The [revenue] that Strat Aero presents publicly is not the business its going to have in 90 days,” he said.