NASA’s mission to revolutionize air travel has taken a significant step forward as the space agency starts building its X-59 QueSST supersonic jet. The X-59 airplane is dubbed by some as ‘the son of Concorde’ and is being manufactured, on behalf of NASA, by security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin. NASA’s X-59 isn’t a prototype for a commercial airliner and can’t carry passengers — but its quiet, supersonic tech could be adopted by aircraft manufacturers in future designs.” [CNN: 19 Nov 2018].
The Concorde’s demise was largely due to the fact that supersonic disruption was banned over land by most countries, because the resultant sound booms disturbed people and was thought to damage property. Flights of the Concorde were therefore limited to over sea routes, whereby the Concorde became economically non-viable. The X-59 is a $247.5 million quest to build a supersonic aircraft that doesn’t produce sonic booms. If NASA’s experimental project works, it should help make supersonic flight more economical.
The design of the X-59 is intended to reduce noise, minimizing and redirecting the sonic boom upwards. “This aircraft has the potential to transform aviation in the United States and around the world by Son of Concorde making faster-than-sound air travel over land possible for everyone,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a press statement about the Lockheed deal.
The X-59’s designers required rugged video graphics modules to help develop the quiet supersonic technology. “They found their solution from WOLF Advanced Technology in Whitchurch-Stouffville, Ontario,” according to Military & Aerospace Electronics magazine. The chosen products provide video capture, process, encode, and display capabilities to help enable NASA’s windowless cockpit display system.
WOLF Advanced Technology relocated to Stouffville from Uxbridge in 2018. WOLF took over the 2nd floor of the Beacon Hill Professional Building at 175 Mostar, the same building where the Whitchurch-Stouffville Public Library was temporarily located in 2017-18 during reconstruction of the Leisure Centre.
WOLF’s technology will allow the pilot to “see” the world outside of a windowless aircraft.
On a snowy early December afternoon, Town Photographer Julie Williams and I [Dave Tuley, Editor OTR] paid a visit to WOLF Advanced Technology on Mostar Street. We brought a stack of Ballantrae’s famous Nonno Crupi’s Pizza as a holiday gift and general welcome for WOLF’s staff. Pizza smell had filled the corridors as we followed Patrick Lannigan, Director of Marketing, on our way to interview CEO Craig McLaren. Patrick is familiar to many locally as a fellow resident in Stouffville, and in association with the Verve Theatre Company.
Many of the accent walls within WOLF’s headquarters have been clad in wood, adding a warm tone to the atmosphere. Craig was sitting at a medium sized meeting table in his office awaiting our arrival. Patrick had a video camera trained on Craig’s position – “practice -” he said, “always good to practice interview skills.”
Patrick wired us up with mics and let the cameras roll. The interview commenced with me asking Craig questions.
DT: What does WOLF Advanced Technology do?
CM: We are a leading-edge high-tech engineering company that does four things: video capture, video processing, video encoding, and video display. Our primary market is military and aerospace. 8 out of the top 10 military and aerospace companies in the world are customers of Wolf and we’ve sold our products in 22 countries.
DT: What kind of devices do you design?
CM: Products that we build are very complex video boards. These are boards that have been used in chassis that are air-cooled, conductive cooled, liquid-flow-by type technologies. What you’ll find is that these products don’t look like anything that you would recognize as a computer board from a normal place… these are designed to be rugged, design for long-life and designed to meet military and aerospace standards. That puts us in an area where we are charging a premium price for a premium product even though people would not normally assume that a board would command that price.
DT: Who are your other customers?
CM: I’d love to be able to tell you, but the programs we are in, because the majority of them are in military and aerospace, we are limited in what we can tell you. You know the names, you’ve heard them before. They are on the TV and anyone doing a quick search on Google will pretty well find a large contingent of them.
DT: What were you doing in 1985? Just to name a year. Were you thinking ‘I’m going to be involved in a business selling products to aerospace companies’?
CM: ’85 was a period of time when I was more thinking what am I doing with two kids, but that’s another story. At the time I was a young man who found himself in a situation where I had to get out and get a job to support a family. I appeared to be good at selling. I got involved in building and selling component product.
By the time I was 30 I already had three businesses that I was running while working full time. Shortly thereafter I was driving one particular business that became quite successful. I was tired of selling components. I didn’t want to do that type of technology anymore, so had created a distributor and a value-added reseller building and customizing systems. I did that for 15 years out of my house, where I had 15 people working for me, up until about 8 years ago.
During that time, we realized we had to add value and do more things. I got a few of my friends together that were engineers. We won a contract with Rockwell Collins to develop the flight entertainment system for the [below] WOLF Advance Technology at 175 Mostar as seen from Soccer City Boeing 767. It was our first major program, where we instituted graphics processing units (GPU) and different technologies to be able to get rid of rotating media. Many people have flown in a 767 – the original one had a screen at the front of the aircraft where you could see a plane going across (in map view), that was all generated through us. They added other capabilities that we added onto the board. It was the first non-rotating media device with no CD drive – flash drives and GPUs drove the video.
From there, other opportunities came about. We continued to add value. We developed this process involving video capture in code and display. Today, we are one of the premier companies in the world. I know this – all the people who are competitors are basically our partners, and we allow them to sell our products worldwide.
DT: How about WOLF’s growth rate?
CM: This has been an interesting time for growth. For the last 5 years we have gone from 70% growth per year on average to this year – we went 100% growth. That entails not only a company that is quite successful and driving a market, but it also means that we are hiring people. In the last year alone, we have doubled the number of people. In this particular facility we now have 55 people, and I fully expect that we will continue to be hiring. We’re actually wondering if we should buy a building.
One of the interesting things about us as a company, because Stouffville is located as a bedroom of the eastern Toronto area, we have access to a lot of really talented people. The broadcast video industry in Canada has had a really tough time. Many of those engineers are who we want, and they live in Newmarket, Thornhill, Richmond Hill, Ajax and Whitby. We’re sitting in a situation where we are 30 minutes drive near fields and on really nice roads to come to work. Instead of someone spending an hour and a half on the Parkway going south, they get to stay in local areas coming to us and have a far more enjoyable drive.
We are hiring constantly. We are hiring at a rate of 4 people every month. We are looking for senior hardware design engineers, firmware design engineers, and programmers.
We are shifting the company from what was originally configured as an ISO 9001 to a company that will be AS9100. What that really means, from a quality standpoint is that we are a company that is at the level of companies like Boeing and other very large companies – their expectations and being able to supply them a quality level technology is what we are able to do today.
DT: You export the products?
CM: Yes, right now about 95% is exported to the US and a significant amount of business in Europe. We’re headed into the first quarter of 2019 and we’ll be doing a lot of work for Scandinavia, Germany, and France, plus seeking opportunities in Portugal and Spain. We are continually looking to expand. We will be double what we were last year. We look like we will be expanding and adding a manufacturing capability. This is a new thing for us. We are going to start looking for people with surface mount technology expertise… We continually look to raise the bar on everything we do.
DT: Why did you move here from Uxbridge?
CM: Uxbridge was a very nice place to work and had the same sort of benefits as Stouffville. Stouffville has clear advantages to us in that more physically capable buildings are available for us, there’s a lot more infrastructure available and it’s closer to the people we want to be in contact with – the bedroom communities and university and colleges that allow us to attract talented people to continue to grow our business. Stouffville is really a great place for high-tech. We should have a high-tech campus here. Please tell everyone that we are looking for top notch talent.