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Jumping into the future

When: Thursday, 28 June 2018 - Thursday, 28 June 2018
Where: Braamfontein Campus East
Senate Room, 2nd Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House
Start time:17:30

The story of how Wits alumnus Matthew Whalley founded an innovative South African drone company.

Whalley, CEO of Passerine Aircraft Corporation, will be presenting a talk on his exciting journey starting a unique South African drone manufacturing company.

Since graduating from Wits University with BSc (Aeronautical Engineering) and MSc (Engineering) (2015) degrees, Whalley founded Passerine Aircraft. In this talk he will share how funding through Y Combinator - a new model for funding early stage startups – helped the company to lift off, and most importantly, how he and his team of aviation experts are using advances in control systems and lessons from nature to create a jumping aircraft.

The Passerine Aircraft drones’ design is unique, with legs that propel the design into the air-modelled off the flight of a bird.


Wits Associate Lecturer in Aeronautical Engineering, Jyotika Singh, spoke to the 27-year-old Whalley about his journey:

JS: Why did you choose Wits for both degrees?

MW: Both my parents went to Wits and it was the only university offering Aeronautical Engineering as an undergraduate degree.

JS: Who are the people that inspire you the most and why?

MW: Kelly Johnson and Burt Rutan for not following convention in design, and my dad for his approach to solving problems. I also have a huge amount of respect for Nelson Mandela and people who are doing more than earning a living and are making the world a better place.

JS: What are your favourite aircraft?

The Spitfire Mk-IIb and the YF-12 (weaponised SR-71 Blackbird).

JS: When did you start your company, Passerine Aircraft?

MW: In October 2017.

JS: How did you come up with the name “Passerine” Aircraft?

MW: From birds. Perching birds.

JS: Where did you find inspiration for your company?

MW: Initially from partaking in the Flying Donkey Challenge at Wits. I saw that there was a need for a drone that wasn’t too big and was able to carry cargo, be able to do missions and be as easy to use as a quadcopter.

JS: What is novel about your aircraft?

MW: It has legs, a blown wing, ducted fans, powered deep stall landing and it is designed to carry a large tailored payload fraction on a small planform.

JS: What was your proudest moment?

MW: Getting into Y Combinator.

JS: Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

MW: We want to be selling three types of drones into Africa, Europe and America and make a multi-million dollar turnover.

JS: What is your advice to aspiring aeronautical engineers?

MW: You have to be passionate about aircraft and make sure that you read up about what has been done already.

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