Just a few short months after its initial public offering, Aerovironment Inc. is getting the kind of investor and analyst attention that other new public companies could only envy.

Then again, the Monrovia maker of unmanned aircraft and quick-charge systems for electric vehicle batteries has its advantages.

Not only is it in some of the hottest sectors around defense and alternative power but it was founded by flying legend Paul MacCready, who designed the first man-powered aircraft across the English Channel in 1979.

Perhaps more importantly, it was able to perform in the spotlight last month during its first quarterly report, releasing earnings of 57 cents a share that were up almost 100 percent, beating Wall Street's and its own expectations.

"It's an exciting market and they've got exciting products," said Brian Gesuale, a defense technology analyst with Raymond James & Associates Inc.

Those earnings followed a bang up initial public offering in January, which saw the 7.7 million shares offered at $17 close at nearly $24 on the first day of trading.

The company earned some $81 million from the successful offering and could use it. It's in two highly capital- and research-intensive sectors that will require a high level of R & D; spending. But 36 years after its founding as a developer of human-powered flying machines, it seems finally to have found the lift it's needed in hand-launched unmanned aircraft the military can't seem to get enough of.

"The business is growing very rapidly," said Tim Conver, chief executive of Aerovironment. "Unmanned aerial vehicles continue to be adopted by a broader and broader set of U.S. military segments."

Particular advantages

The lightweight, bird-sized airplanes are gaining favor among soldiers who tout the device's surveillance capabilities relaying audio and video information from tiny cameras while keeping troops out of harm's way. The plane can be assembled in less than two minutes and reach the stratosphere, giving troops an immediate bird's-eye view of their surroundings in the latest advancement in the evolution of ground warfare.

Last December, the company secured a contract to supply as many as 1,000 of the devices to the Air Force. The Army, Marine Corps and Special Operations Command also have contracts with Aerovironment, which generate upward of 80 percent of the company's revenue.

"That segment of the market has grown dramatically in the last few years," Conver said.


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