ADELANTO – For the small Adelanto firm named Exquadrum Inc. — that’s pseudo Latin for “thinking outside the box” — rocket science is their bread and butter. The research and development engineering firm is headquartered at the Southern California Logistics Airport and its main office sits in a sleepy corner of the Adelanto desert a few miles from SCLA. Exquadrum has done contract work with NASA, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, and the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency. They’ve also done commercial work in the space tourism industry and with major companies like Raytheon, National Testing Systems and ATK Aerospace Group.
Eric Schmidt, Mayor Pro Tem of Hesperia, co-founded the business in 2002 with fellow aerospace engineer Kevin Mahaffy. Both were civilian workers at the Air Force Rocket Propulsion Laboratory located at Edwards Air Force Base before they started the company. However, it is Schmidt who is known by some in the Victor Valley as the “Tony Stark of the High Desert,” a reference to the “Iron Man” star.
“We’re inventors,” Schmidt said. “Our main output, our main product, are ideas. What we develop defends the country and protects our soldiers.”
Among the variety of projects Exquadrum has been tasked with is tackling threats of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). The firm gained national recognition in 2008 after a journalist from Wired Magazine pieced together various government contract summaries to deduce Exquadrum was building “rocket balls” that target WMD inside bunkers.
Schmidt said the firm was shocked when the article came out. The work was classified and had not yet been discussed in such a public forum.
“The article was done without anyone’s consent,” Schmidt said. “It was kind of funny how many languages it was translated in. There were so many different international references and websites. We started getting a lot of phone calls and it was a bit disruptive to our business, frankly.”
Schmidt estimates that only 10 other businesses in the country are similar to Exquadrum, which is unique because it is a full-service innovation firm. That means engineers in the company of 25 employees complete every step of the idea process, from brainstorming to manufacturing sub-scale prototypes to test their ideas out.
The company specializes in space rocket systems and liquid rocket technologies. They conduct static firing tests inside cubed chambers like HADES 1 — a forced acronym for high temperature agent defeat experimental system. Testing areas are configured and reconfigured sometimes daily.
“We don’t do any vertical firing or dynamic firing,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said they chose Adelanto as their home base because real estate was “cost effective” and city officials were “very business friendly.” Safety Manager Ray Butler said wind conditions in the desert are also ideal for extinguishing smoke that is released from some of the test runs. Butler works full-time ensuring the company complies with state laws and air quality standards.
Their technical laboratory is a 10,000-square-foot facility on 1.3 acres of land. They’ve also got business offices at SCLA, Huntsville, Alabama and in Jupiter, Florida.
“It’s a nice fit for the nature of our business,” Schmidt said. “When you said ‘Hey, we’re thinking about testing rockets,’ other cities were like ‘What?’ and Adelanto was like ‘Come on in.’”
Schmidt and Mahaffy were recognized among the Inland Empire’s top business leaders in 2013, receiving the Technology Entrepreneurs of the Year award. Schmidt was also recently nominated for the San Bernardino County Education Medal of Honor by Apple Valley Unified School District Superintendent Tom Hoegerman.
The business was the primary industry partner that worked with the school district to set up their new Precision Machining Academy that debuted this past fall.
“He has a real vision for what a school and industry partnership should look like, and I consider it to be a model partnership,” Hoegerman said. “He not only provided expertise, but personnel to help us to get training for the equipment. He guided us to the types of the equipment to buy so it’s industry standard.”
Schmidt said Exquadrum is now assisting Hesperia Unified School District through the same process. Hoegerman said he hopes to replicate a similar partnership with other industry leaders.
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