Dr. Timothy Antaya flies a Columbia to speed research on a new cancer treatment.
Dec. 1, 2016
Many companies rely on business aviation to transport sensitive equipment, but they probably are not carrying components for an experimental proton beam. But that’s exactly what Dr. Timothy Antaya does.
My job is to keep my team in New Hampshire moving and keep the vendors moving, so the ability to move components safely and securely, over hundreds of miles, is essential.
In Lynchburg, VA, Antaya carefully places a $50,000 electromagnet in the back of his Columbia 350SL and prepares to return to his lab in Hampton, NH, along that state’s seacoast. The magnet is so sensitive and carefully calibrated, it’s almost impossible to ship by truck over bumpy roads.
Dr. Antaya’s startup company, Antaya Science & Technology, is developing a prototype particle accelerator for proton beam therapy, a highly targeted form of cancer radiation treatment. And his small team of 20 engineers and support staff is trying to build the prototype twice as fast as the project should take.
“It usually takes about seven to 10 years to invent a new particle accelerator,” said Antaya. “Our prototype is due to investors by the end of 2016, with a commercial product ready by 2019.”
Specialized Supply Chain
Meeting that schedule would be much harder without Antaya’s Columbia 350SL. The company’s suppliers are all specialty manufacturers spread out across New England, the Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest. Few are located near a commercial airport.
“When you build a particle accelerator from scratch, you’re designing devices that don’t exist yet,” said Antaya. “There aren’t a lot of vendors that can build these components. Those that can, tend to be in rural or suburban areas where their input costs are lower.”
Antaya only earned his pilot’s license in 2014. Earlier that year, he and a business partner needed to travel to Rochester, NY. The partner flew them there in a Cessna 310R, and Antaya was back in Hampton, NH, to meet with his team the same afternoon
“Normally, that trip would take another day of travel, and we’d have to stay overnight,” said Antaya. Based on that experience, he decided to become a pilot himself, tapping the local community of airmen and instructors for continual training. He first invested in a Piper Cherokee before buying the Columbia in October 2015.
Technology Enhances Situational Awareness
“I wanted a plane with a precision autopilot and a glass cockpit,” said Antaya. The Columbia 350SL is outfitted with a Garmin G1000 avionics suite, which Antaya values for the situational awareness it provides, especially when things get busy in the cockpit. The glass cockpit enables Antaya to check enroute charts and approach plates without unfolding paper maps, and he also can check radar weather reports from the flight deck.
This equipment is in such a fragile state, it’s like shipping china, but one-of-kind china that takes three months to build.
After acquiring the Columbia, Antaya upgraded it with a WAAS GPS receiver. (WAAS stands for Wide Area Augmentation System, a network of satellites and ground stations that makes GPS positioning about five times more accurate.) “What WAAS does is give you assurance that, regardless of the weather or cloud cover obscuring the runway, you can make a stabilized approach,” said Antaya. “And I have that assurance at airports I’ve never been to before.”
Antaya estimates he’s flown around 40 different approaches using WAAS at airports near suppliers in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as at Portsmouth International Airport (PSM).
A Smoother Ride
Departing Lynchburg after picking up the $50,000 electromagnet, Antaya is ready to return to Hampton. But first he needs to drop off the magnet in Doylestown, PA. There, an advanced heat-treating company will bake the magnet at nearly 600 degrees for two weeks to activate its superconducting properties.
“With this prototype, we’re testing our theories as we go, so it helps to be there in person to go over the designs with vendors. And when we take the components back to New Hampshire, we need accurate readings,” said Antaya. “Any mishandling, dropping or temperature extremes in transit would compromise the results.”
The Columbia can transport the large components of the experimental proton beam because it has a large, flat, aft cargo compartment. The airplane can carry 120 pounds in the cargo compartment, but if it’s fully weighed down in the back, it flies nose-up and slightly less efficiently. “But the second row of seats folds flat,” said Antaya, “so that allows you to adjust the position [of the magnet] for weight and balance and fly the airplane at its cruising speed of 176 knots.”
Despite his airplane’s cargo capacity, Antaya initially wasn’t sure the Columbia would provide a smooth enough ride for the accelerator’s sensitive components. It wasn’t until he flew cross country to Phoenix that he was convinced. The trip included a fuel stop in Topeka, KS, where hot conditions and high crosswinds made for a bumpy landing. And yet, when Antaya landed back home at PSM, an oil can that had been placed in the cargo compartment was still standing upright.
As Antaya’s project manager Tim Lefebvre puts it, “This equipment is in such a fragile state, it’s like shipping china, but one-of-kind china that takes three months to build.”
Because all the components are new designs, vendors can’t always predict when they’ll be ready. “We have to work very hard to meet our deadlines on this project,” said Antaya. “My job is to keep my team in New Hampshire moving and keep the vendors moving, so the ability to move components safely and securely, over hundreds of miles, is essential.”
Learn about the Antaya Foundation, which offers STEM internships at Antaya Science & Technology for high school students, at https://antayafoundation.wordpress.com/.
Snapshot: Antaya Science & Technology
Port City Air on Portsmouth (NH) International Airport at Pease (PSM)
One Columbia 350SL
Antaya is the owner/operator and sole pilot