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Del Norte Changed Focus

Del Norte Technology is marketing their Flying Flagman positioning system to map the land-water transition zone in places where it is difficult to use a survey boat.

It is a combination coastal and cadastral system that can be used on board a vessel or a plane or helicopter, said Adrian “Abe” Ascenzi, operations manager of Del Norte. The system uses Del Norte’s Flite Trac aerial processing software along with Hypack from Coastal Oceanographics.

A major use for this system is to position aircraft spraying herbicides on coca and opium poppy fields in Latin America through the U.S. government’s anti-drug campaign, which accounts for a large percentage of Del Norte’s business.

The system has an internal processor, a GPS receiver, left-right guidance, a hand-held entry device about the size of an old Hewlett-Packard calculator, and an antenna capable of receiving any of the normal differential sources. There are more than 35 Flying Flagman systems deployed in Central and South America with the State Department. Other major users are Dole, Del Monte and Chiquita.

They have sold the Flying Flagman system to the government of India for bathymetric monitoring of the surf zone, and Ascenzi sees this application as one that could expand.

Del Norte was once in the forefront of the dredging and hydrographic survey positioning industry. Ascenzi recalls that in 1982 there were 300 Trisponder systems in Latin America alone. There were well over 1000 systems in the field at any time throughout the world during that time. A normal system had two beach stations and one on the vessel, and these systems became obsolete by the early 1990’s when GPS became fully operational.

“Every Corps district had Trisponder systems,” said Ascenzi. “When GPS technology came over, Del Norte had to monitor and support these systems, with a worldwide customer base. We never manufactured our own GPS engine, which put us at a competitive disadvantage in this market,” he said.

In the early and mid-1990’s the company tried to compete in GPS. They produced systems that were internal processors with computers that could accept compact disks and floppy disks. After software was added, this became a complete survey system.

The competitor of this system was a combination of a GPS receiver and a laptop computer, costing from $3000 to $5000. This was so much cheaper than Del Norte’s system that the company could not compete.

By the mid-1990’s the company had declined enough that they filed Chapter 11 in 1997. The company reorganized and emerged from Chapter 11 after 10 months. In 1998 the company, which was owned by Fitz Korth, was sold to a group of investors doing business as AMT Venture Group. Ron Spinek is CEO, and the company is in the same location in Euless, Texas.

There is still a market for the Trisponder systems, said Ascenzi. Users know that GPS is dependent on the goodwill of the U.S. government, and so a number of navies maintain them as a backup, including the British, Spanish and Indian navies. The Indian navy bought the traditional Trisponder equipment as well as the Flying Flagman for use on survey vessels and helicopters for intermediate zone surveys, using Flite Trac software.

Many users still maintain their Trisponder range/range positioning systems, said Ascenzi, in case the GPS system goes down. But there are hundreds of Trisponder units all over the world that are not in use, and Ascenzi periodically gets calls from people who have bought them at auction, wondering what they are and what they do.

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