BRINC Drones, maker of the US-manufactured LEMUR drone series for public safety, donated drones and training to Ukraine. What it took to get them there, however, is a story in and of itself.
At Xponential 2022 in Orlando this week, DRONELIFE had the opportunity to interview one of the youngest super stars in the drone industry, BRINC Drones Founder and CEO Blake Resnick. We asked for the inside story on the BRINC donation to Ukraine: and the truth behind the headlines was an even more impressive narrative about the persistence of an entire company.
As soon as the war started, BRINC’s network in Ukraine reached out about LEMUR drones. Resnick knew that the LEMURs, which are appropriate for short range reconnaissance and have proven their value in searching collapsed buildings during the Surfside Condo collapse, would be an invaluable tool for Ukrainian fighters. He was committed to delivering the hardware they’d asked for – but that’s where a business as usual acquisition process ended.
“We started hearing from people that we knew in the region almost immediately – local distributors, people in the government, and disaster response people,” says Resnick. “The initial thought was that they would buy some of our units, but we realized pretty soon that the process was just moving too slowly.”
“We wanted to get our drones into their hands as soon as we could, so we decided to just make a donation,” says Resnick.
Making the decision to just give Ukraine the drones so they wouldn’t have to go through a purchasing process was just the beginning. BRINC works through resellers, and they didn’t have the units required sitting in a warehouse. So Resnick solved the problem in the most efficient way he could: “We went to one of our distributors, and bought back our inventory – took it back to our warehouses and upgraded every unit.”
Upgrading the units on such a tight timeline meant that the entire production team had to be involved. Resnick says that the response was immediate – they were ready to do whatever it took to get the units ready to ship.
“Everyone was excited to be able to help,” Resnick says. “It’s actually been really good for morale – we know our work matters. These are not just toys. This is our contribution, this is why our company exists. I think it’s really inspiring.”
After working around the clock on the production floor, the LEMURs were ready to go. They were packaged and shipped from Las Vegas to Poland, on a route that led through LA’s LAX airport and an airport in Germany. At the time, however, German authorities had decided not to allow certain types of donations to Ukraine through the country; so when the shipment reached Germany, the drones were returned to LAX, where they were stuck in customs – by this time, in damaged shipping containers, with some units also needing repair.
BRINC got the news late at night, while much of the team was at a drone show in Dubai. VP of Nevada Operations Michael Van Hill got into his car and drove from Las Vegas to LAX to take back possession of the units. Without leaving LA, he got damaged parts repaired and repackaged the drones, then found a new shipping carrier that would not route the shipment through Germany.
With the training team still in Dubai, the hardware finally landed in the Warsaw airport, where BRINC had agreed with the Ukraine Freedom Alliance to do the handoff. Training, however, needed to take place in a small town in Northern Poland – and it would have to include knowledge transfer on technology, repairs, and maintenance as well as operations, to ensure that the Ukrainian operators would be able to keep the drones running . The drones would now need to be transported to the training location, which meant finding a truck.
The BRINC team is singularly well-equipped to deal with this kind of problem. BRINC’s Chief of Staff Andrew Coté is the former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in Charge of Special Operations – the person responsible for coordinating special operations with the Oval Office. “He’s been running missions in this kind of environment for his whole career,” says Resnick. “He had the skill set to make this happen.”
Training Ukrainian Pilots
With the team and the hardware finally in Poland, the Ukrainian operators also had to reach the training site. “Moving around in the Ukraine isn’t safe – so they had to figure out how to get a dozen of their people from Ukraine into Poland and back again, which is a significant risk.” Working with the Ukraine Freedom Alliance, the pilots – many of them helicopter pilots – arrived.
They were skilled pilots with strong backgrounds; but none, of course, spoke English. One BRINC technician, Dmitri Tarasov, speaks Russian, which most of the Ukrainian pilots could understand. Translators also helped. The teams had 2 days to transfer enough knowledge to ensure that the Ukraine operators could get the most value from the drones.
The mission was successful- and now, BRINC continues their commitment to Ukraine.
“We started off donating ten drones – now, we have orders for an additional 50, which are being purchased by other NATO countries and donated as humanitarian aid for Ukraine,” Resnick explains. Soon, the training team will go to another NATO country to do more training with Ukrainian pilots. Despite the challenges, Resnick says, the entire team is ready to do it again.
“It was cool how immediately everyone was fully invested – I didn’t have to convince anyone. Everyone intuitively understood that we needed to do this. We all worked for weeks to make this happen – and frankly, we hope that we’ll be doing a lot more.”
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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.
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