Sunday, July 07, 2013

"Dream" takes flight: Model plane retailer ventures into business of making drones

News-Journal/PETER BAUER 
Owner Todd Witkoff discusses his product line at Dreamworks in Daytona Beach. Witkoff has retooled his shop to manufacture drones as well as model aircraft.

DAYTONA BEACH — Building and flying model airplanes has always been a passion and hobby for local resident Todd Witkoff.

It's led to his establishing a business several years ago as an online seller of parts for radio-controlled jet models and accessories. His company, Dreamworks Model Products, has steadily grown.

It's also led to his recent decision to try his wings in a new enterprise as a maker of unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as UAVs or drones.

While part sales remain his primary business, Witkoff has launched a new division of Dreamworks Model Products called Aircraft Engineering & Fabrication. He has designed, built and tested two prototype UAVs so far and is hoping to land contracts to build more.

One of his prototypes is called The Stingray, which has a delta-wing design and is 8-1/2-feet long, with a 14-1/2-foot wingspan. It can fly 12,000 feet high and can stay aloft for up to 22 hours with a maximum speed of 135 miles per hour. It can also carry a 150-pound payload.

The other prototype is called the Aggressor III, a rocket-shaped target drone that's 11 feet long, with a 6-foot wingspan. It can fly up to 450 miles per hour and can remain airborne for up to 30 minutes.

The addition of his new line of business prompted Witkoff in part to recently buy two buildings totaling 5,725 square feet at 775 Fentress Blvd. in Daytona Beach.

He paid $405,000 to acquire the property. 

Dreamworks Model Products began in 2000 as a home-based business before moving to a leased space at New Smyrna Beach Municipal Airport. The company, which employs three workers in addition to Witkoff, moved into its new facilities in Daytona Beach last month. 

"We needed a more presentable place to bring people in as a corporate headquarters," Witkoff said of his decision to move his company to the recently purchased property on Fentress Boulevard. "I like this unique design."

Designed in 1985 by Ormond Beach architect Ben Butera, the 3,725-square-foot main building includes glass block accents and a tower foyer with a slanted glass roof.

"It's a neat building," said the property's seller, Justin Gates, a co-owner of Sports Network International, now a home-based business in Ormond Beach. "We bought it because it was convenient to the post office, Fed-Ex and UPS so we could quickly mail out our information. Everything is now done online so we didn't need the space anymore."

Witkoff said, "Buying this is costing me $1,000 a month less than leasing and I'm putting the investment back in my pocket."

Local real estate observer Dick McNerney, a commercial agent with of Adams, Cameron & Co. Realtors, said Witkoff may have a point.

"It's better to buy than build new at twice the price," said McNerney, who was not involved in the sale.

Witkoff moved to Daytona Beach to attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in hopes of becoming a commercial pilot before deciding to switch his field of study to engineering. He eventually landed a job with Metra Electronics in Holly Hill.

Through it all, he continued to build and fly model airplanes in his spare time, a hobby he began at age 8.  

"I started building those hand-tossed gliders and then flying control-line planes and moved to remote-control airplanes," he said, explaining the progression of his hobby that eventually led to starting Dreamworks Model Products. 

"It's molded my whole life, literally," he said.

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