Empirical Systems Aerospace has received about $2.5 million worth of contracts with NASA since 2013, with more contracts in the works. ESAero is helping the agency develop propulsion systems for hybrid helicopters.
In 2013, the firm had seven employees at its location at the Oceano County Airport. This summer, it is expanding to about 20 employees and will open a small office in San Luis Obispo, said Benjamin T. Schiltgen, vice president of finance and one of the firm’s founders.
More than 50 percent of the firm’s work now comes from NASA.
“Hybrid air vehicle development is becoming a focus at NASA,” Schiltgen said. “They are coming to us for a lot of the work.” The small firm has become a go-to contractor for the high-profile federal agency due to “persistence in the last 12 years, and pumping out good work,” Schiltgen said.
Furthermore, he added, the skills developed for NASA projects are making it easier for the firm to find additional projects in the private sector.
ESAero began in 2003 in the garage of a rental home in Arroyo Grande, when the founders Schiltgen, Andrew Gibson and Trevor Foster were fresh out of Cal Poly’s aerospace engineering program.
The company got its first break in 2006 building display models for NASA and has held major contracts with NASA since 2008.
ESAero is also working on a $750,000 project for the U.S. Air Force to make improvements to the open-source computer program Open VSP, which can be used for designing aircraft.
An additional multimillion-dollar project for NASA is in the approval process, said Schiltgen, who said that he could not elaborate at this time.