In June 2008, the Defense Department was shown how a manned platform built from modified commercial airframes could provide certain types of ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) missions for a significantly lower cost than the currently deployed C-12 drones. Called the Liberty Aircraft, the modified airframe was outfitted with state of the art air-to-ground communications and imaging equipment and was fast-tracked into production.
In that same month, Lucian was tasked with producing a civilian version of the manned airborne telecommunication platform. The result was the Air-Tower, a highly modified Cessna VLJ based on a previous JPL project for Iridium. The current Air-Tower system has a multitude of uses and deployment scenarios that cannot be equaled by a typical drone. Most specifically, lightweight drones are fine for imaging but they lack the payload capacity to carry heavy-duty transmitting equipment. This prevents their use in providing wide-scale complex telecommunication as part of ground-based emergency services.
The Air-Tower is currently the only emergency communication platform that is FAA certified for service to U.S. metropolitan centers for use in catastrophic situations where loss of infrastructure prevents normal communication.