The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) could have purchased several helicopters for the amount it paid for five drones recently—a situation that has since been raising eyebrows.
Investigations by Kaieteur News have revealed that the army could have, alternatively, purchased three helicopters – for the price it paid for five drones – that are more ideal for the domestic military surveillance.
A Robinson R44 helicopter currently in use by at least one local operator can be purchased for a base list price of $367,000.
Paying close to $5 per gallon for 100L and budgeting realistic amounts for maintenance and the 2200-hour overhaul, the direct operating cost of an R44 is approximately $190 per hour.
The helicopter carries one or two pilots with a capacity for holding four, including a pilot, and has a payload of 748 lbs.
Guyana could have purchased three of these helicopters for the price it paid for the drones. Kaieteur News understands there are currently three pilots in Guyana qualified to fly such helicopters for the Army, and are without work.
Another version of the Robinson-type helicopter is called the Clipper and this can be had even cheaper, at US$240,000. Meaning, Guyana could have bought four of those helicopters.
A used Bell 47 G5A could be purchased for US$130,000. This means that Guyana could have purchased six of these helicopters.
This helicopter is capable of carrying two persons with an empty weight of 1,893 lb (859 kg)
An Airbus AS355 would run government US$595,000 but is considerably larger than the others, but would still work out cheaper than the drones.
There is even a refurbished 2005 Robinson R44 that can be had at US$100,000 or the latest R66 for $935,000.
Instead, the GDF opted for five drones at US$900,000 or US$180,000 each.
The GDF purchased the drones from a start-up tech company located in a rented unit in a business incubator.
Compounding the situation is that government paid as much as five times more than the cost of a similar drone for similar specifications.
In fact, the one purchased by the Guyana Government is one that the company only managed to finish designing and testing in August last.
Investigations by this publication found that the actual business location for Skyfront, is a small 1,100 square feet, rented unit, inside of a warehouse.
The unit, located at 4499 Edison Drive, Melno, North Oaks, California, USA, is in fact a shared space for a number of other tech start-up companies.
The facility is called Edison Technology Park, named after the street on which it is located.
Other businesses sharing the space, includes a flower company, Acuity Technologies and Mountain View Pharmaceuticals—other start-up companies.
Skyfront was founded in 2014 by its Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Troy Mestler, who accompanied two other partners to Guyana recently for a demonstration for the GDF.
Investigations by this publication found that the $36M price tag for one of the drones could have purchased up to five similar ones from reputable companies, or more improved types used by the military for long range high altitude surveillance.
The drone purchased by Guyana uses a hybrid gas engine that has been tested for just over four hours but advertised to have a flying time beyond five hours. It flies up to 100 metres in height.
Among its features, is the ability to fly in extremely cold conditions ‘outside of the line of sight.’ It was also touted to be able to withstand temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius.
Guyana’s average temperature is 31 degrees Celsius.
A demonstration of the capabilities of the drones was recently conducted before a final decision for the purchase was made.
Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Patrick West, at the time lauded the acquisition of the drones, saying it will significantly enable the Force to fulfill its functions and mandate, particularly as it works towards effective transformation for total national defence.
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