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Finding hidden bombs

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SkyResearch.jpg Sky Research’s MD530 helicopter equipped with a magnetometer sensor array that detects bombs.

ASHLAND “Do you lift weights?”

Before I can answer, Sky has handed me something large, metallic, and, I am guessing, heavy. I brace my legs before cradling the cool, metallic bomb. “That is an improvised explosive device,” he says. “The IED has killed more troops in Iraq than any other weapon, and it has wounded soldiers in horrific ways. We can find these from the air, and we can find them on the ground.”

Sky, co-founder and vice president of Ashland-headquartered Sky Research, doesn’t have much to say about his unusual name, other than “Sky? That’s my name. I’m a pilot.” But he has plenty to say about Sky Research, a $13 million, 85-employee operation with four offices in North America.

He and Anne Sky, the company’s president, came up with their business plan while living in a Sioux tepee in the Illinois River Valley in 1979. Now they run the only company in Oregon that locates, maps and removes unexploded bombs. They’re cleaning up 12 Air Force bases and three Army bases throughout the nation and preparing for a monumental job at a Navy site south of Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of unexploded weapons buried in the earth. Sky projects revenues will grow 20% to 30% in 2009 as the company expands its research and development contracts and branches overseas. But for all of Sky Research’s growth, it remains puny compared to the companies that dominate the industry, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

“We’re competing with $50 billion companies,” he says. “But we can do the job faster, cheaper and better.” He’s hoping the incoming Obama administration will help give the company a chance to prove it.             

BEN JACKLET


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