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GA-ASI Hosts Aerospace Accelerator Pitch Competition

Do unicorns have wings?

Perhaps they do. People filled a meeting room at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. late last week to spot potential unicorns … or at least glimpse the future of aviation and space travel.

The Starburst aerospace accelerator program — founded in Paris and now with an office in Los Angeles — used a GA-ASI conference room in the Poway Business Park to bring young aerospace companies together with potential funding sources.

Nine companies made presentations. They included a Los Angeles company working on a zero-emission electric jet (Ampaire), a Montreal company that makes electronics to track eye movement (Mirametrix) and an Atlanta company making specialty heat-spreading materials from carbon nanotubes (Carbice Corp.).

A Connecticut company called LiquidPiston Inc. presented its small rotary engines for unmanned aircraft and small aircraft. CEO Alec Shkolnik explained the company takes the concept of the Wankel Rotary Engine and “turns it inside out.” (Some readers may remember Mazda marketing cars with rotary engines in the 1970s.) The U.S. Army and the Defense Advanced Projects Agency, aka DARPA, have inked $9 million worth of contracts with LiquidPiston.

The crowd was a demanding one; audience members shot technical questions at the presenters. For example, one wanted to know how the LiquidPiston engine stood up to altitude and thermal testing. It hasn’t happened yet, Shkolnik said; as yet, the engine has only run 20 hours on a go-kart.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems announced it had a person in the room, ready to draft nondisclosure agreements on the spot, if any of the young companies wanted to talk about intellectual property and partnership opportunities.

Privately held GA-ASI builds and services its Predator line of aircraft in another area of the campus.

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