A Day In The Life of Co-founder & Chief Technology Officer at Ampaire, Inc.

ADITL_Cory Combs

Cory Combs
Co-founder, Chief Technology Officer, Ampaire, Inc.

Cory founded Ampaire Inc. to lead the industry towards electrifying aviation. In his founding role and as the Chief Technology Officer, Cory routinely communicates with suppliers, potential customers and people in various countries interested in his work. He leads technical growth within Ampaire, develops company patents and performs extensive R&D efforts. 

 

ADITL

Wednesday

6:45 AM

When Cory wakes up, he immediately checks and responds to emails while prioritizing those from overseas that have arrived during the evening. The urgency around responding is a crucial component of the culture at Ampaire. 

Cory communicates daily with suppliers based in Europe and Asia—people all over the world are excited about the current work from Africa to Costa Rica. 

Rapid responsiveness while communicating with these individuals (and in general) is key and an incredibly competitive advantage for startups. Important email messaging can often fall into a black hole. But with startups, teams are small and have the ability to move quickly to take advantage of opportunities or engage with those interested. Maintaining this scrappy, fast-moving culture is an absolute for Ampaire. 

Their neighbor, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, exhibits the same response time even with their now 7,000 employees. This flexibility and quickness isn’t seen in larger corporations and says something about those who deem it necessary. The only downside to this value is its inevitability of producing a hectic and ‘round-the-clock’ work schedule but that comes with the territory. 

“When we get an email, we can turn around with a quick response to discuss opportunities. That is the secret sauce!”


7:30 AM

On his commute, Cory takes the LA Metro Rail, providing him with hands-free travel to continue responding to emails and checking out the latest aircraft and EV news. 

The electrical plane industry is sparse, with Magnix as one of the only other electrical aircraft companies to have flown an electrical plane. In any case, Ampaire cheers for the others involved in the field (although not many), as more peers would add legitimacy to the industry. Cory views his true competition to be traditional planes still using combustion engines and fuel but not those working towards the same vision as Ampaire. 

For anyone interested in electric vehicles or news of the sort, Cory recommends checking out Electrek’s website—it’s chock full of industry information. For aircraft, Aviation Week is at the top of his list along with general startup magazines or ones specifically involved with traditional technology.


8:00 AM

Once Cory gets off the metro, he walks past the Boring Company’s first tunnel and tunnel boring machine, which at one point included a fake Monty Python knight in a tower using bricks compressed from tunnel dirt.

ADITL_Boring Co. - Cory Combs

He then passes the SpaceX, the first stage rocket that ever landed along with their main facility, always buzzing with activity. He often spots rocket engines or the Dragon 2 spacecraft being wheeled out from the facility. 

ADITL_SpaceX - Cory Combs

Then, after dodging propellant tank domes, Cory walks past the Tesla design center headquarters where product reveals take place. 

“I recall a time I was in the front row near the stage at the Cybertruck reveal, hoping the metal ball they were throwing at the truck didn’t bounce back into my face. Thankfully, the glass absorbed the blow.”

ADITL_Tesla Design Center - Cory Combs

Finally, Cory walks past the historic structure of the Northrop wind tunnel and towards Jack Northrop’s original office where he built the first flying wings. He then turns into Ampaire’s office, where some of the first electric planes ever built sit to greet himnot a bad trip to the office to say the least!

ADITL_Ampaire 1 - Cory Combs

There are currently over 15 team members working out of Ampaire’s office. At the leadership level, Ampaire operates with Kevin Noertker as the CEO, Doug Shane as the General Manager, Susan Ying as the Senior Vice President of Global Partnerships and Peter Savagian as Senior Vice President of Engineering. This also includes a core team of engineers like Dahlia, contractors like flight test pilots, mechanics and FAA certification support personnel. There are ample experts outside of the core team involved with the planes.


10:00 AM

Cory spent his morning on telecons with suppliers, customers, investors and engineers around the world. The California time zone warrants early meetings with Europe and the east coast, among others. The calls with suppliers and engineers tend to be more technical, considering they’re key partners in their progress, while calls with customers and investors particularly are more for status and technology-upgrade updates. “New investors want to learn more, where my role is to explain unique technology.” Those conversations could lead to more investments or buzz—can’t complain either way!

As far as the engine, wings and plane itself, Ampaire designs and builds a combination of everything with some components entirely built in house. Other parts of the plane are contracted out for custom build or purchased if the team needs something already available. 


12:00 PM

The afternoon quickly snuck up on him after he spent most of his morning on the phone or teleconference. Cory often utilizes the afternoons to work on experimental R&D projects or coordinate with the leadership team and engineers. 

Cory has an ability to act on ideas without spending too much time trying to make them perfect. The best engineering sometimes are the prototypes that some might consider embarrassing to show teammates, but did the job of representing and validating an idea quickly after conception. Ampaire is no stranger to cardboard and duct tape, having built mockups of battery packs from these materials. Cory believes the worst thing an engineer can do is attempt to discover every risk of a project upfront on paper and hesitate to start build and test. 

Discovery happens as the project moves forward and innovation is easily lost by those trying to design at 99% fidelity on paper. Successful software startups operate in a similar fashion, with emphasis on designing simple beta and adding functionality later on. 

“The biggest barrier to R&D, causing the most problems with innovative research, is the perfectionist tendency. You have to be willing to build things out of Legos.”

At some point, everyone will fall into the trap of feeling embarrassed to show a prototype early on but real research and innovation comes from far-out ideas. Having a proof of concept mockup, in any form, is also the best way to acquire a contract. Even if something isn’t fully functional, it will lead to much more than presenting nothing or just numbers on an excel spreadsheet. 

For Ampaire, the first mockup of an aircraft was made in a single evening with wood and plastic!

“If you try to nail everything at once and right away, you’ll fail.”


2:00 PM

Cory worked on a technology white paper he is currently writing.

Cory recently co-authored a white paper for AIAA; American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics titled “Development of a Ducted Propulsor for BLI Electric Regional Aircraft – Part I: Aerodynamic Design and Analysis.”


4:00 PM

Ampaire Inc. has both issued and pending patents for various aspects and systems within their planes. Cory spent his time working on the details on this day. In general, he will often interface back and forth with lawyers who end up completing most of the boring requirements of organizing patents. 

Cory doesn’t hold any personal patents within Ampaire, as they belong to the company however in lieu of his entrepreneurial spirit, he did inform us that he has another patent for a pasture raised chicken coup that enables chickens to be raised using grass and more sustainable, concentrated agriculture. This was based on a pro bono design on a humanitarian effort based trip to Haiti!


6:00 PM

Cory ended the day at Ampaire meeting with his team and strategizing to define the next stage of their technical growth. 

Like any startup, Ampaire learned to walk before it ran. Before anything was created, they designed subscale models, mockups and small versions of aircraft. The first model aircraft to take flight had a four-foot wingspan which was followed by an electrical version made for ground use. After this process, an actual plane was built and tested in flight by a test pilot and flight engineer. 

The impact of electric planes is enough to keep Ampaire’s team continuing to run full speed ahead. To public surprise, the largest benefit of electrical planes is the cost savings, as electricity is much cheaper than aviation fuel. Alongside cost is the safety of removing combustible aviation fuel from the plane. The reliability of electric motors is a huge component, as well, with only one moving part which also leads to more manageable maintenance and less noise for a better riding experience. Last, but certainly not least, the environmental benefits of electric planes are invaluable. Local and global air pollution is a big deal for planes. 

“Planes are taking up a greater and greater percentage of total pollution, worldwide. For many individuals who take a number of flights a year, it’s their biggest individual carbon impact.”

These changes are taking place and developing as we speak. Cory projects by 2040, short route flights under 500 miles will utilize electric planes but from this point forward some components of aviation will incorporate electronic systems. If you think about it, aviation is much bigger than just the plane itself; ground equipment, engine starters, runway foundations and HVAC from gates are being examined for electric re-designs. As time progresses, electric planes will continue to saturate aircraft. 

“By 2050 to 2060 every type of plane will be electrified to some extent.”

ADITL_Ampaire 2 - Cory Combs


11:45 PM

Before heading to bed Cory works a bit more because, well, it’s a startup and the work never ends (he’s kidding… somewhat). 

If he’s not wrapping up the day’s work, he likes to read and listen to audiobooks.

Experience

Cory’s interest in experimental aircraft originated as early as five years old. This progressed towards electrical vehicles after a run in with an early model of the Tesla Roadster while in college. When we say run-in, we mean the almost-silent vehicle literally almost hit him. The car was driving slow on a small campus road, BUT STILL!

With interest and experience working in both aerospace and cleantech industries, Cory graduated from Stanford University with an MS, BS in Mechanical Engineering. Mechanical Engineering was broad and incorporated many of Cory’s interests, although was not the only degree that could have led him down his career path. His entrepreneurial mindset flourished after realizing there was no viable option of combining startups and aircrafts, at the time, leading to the spark of creating one for himself. He jokingly dedicates further inspiration to watching Iron Man 2 in 2010 while listening to Elon Musk speak about a somewhat mystical Supersonic Electric Plane and thinking if this seemingly impossible idea was, in fact, possible. While working in the aerospace industry, things began to evolve. He gained experience working internationally on X Planes while learning about electric vehicles and global needs for aircraft. 

Cory remained in LA for the entirety of his career and later went forward to combine his passion and industry expertise into Ampaire Inc. From there, Cory recruited a Co-Founder/CEO and team of reputable field professionals, who together, have been working towards revolutionizing the aircraft industry. 

If you could step back and meet your 18-year-old self, what would you tell him? 

“I think I would say… take more risks and don’t ever be cowed by ‘expert opinions’ or big names.”

Cory continues in explaining a key for success in startups is learning what already exists from those who have paved ways in the industry. Contrarily, taking risks and acting, designing, and iterating without hesitation is also important. Preconceived notions lead to expectations but without those constructs, true discovery can flourish.  

“Ultimately, you need to have the confidence to think outside the box. If you find something that you think you could do better… you don’t need decades of experience to start.”

There is an innate and clear ‘go-getter’ mentality that saturates Cory and his team’s momentum. Perfectionist tendencies are mitigated in order to continue innovation. Cory stresses the importance of utilizing people and resources. Try things out. Ask someone… anyone! Cold reaching out doesn’t always go well, but it’s always worth the risk.  

 

How do you define a successful day at work? 

For Cory and the team at Ampaire Inc., success is defined as rapid iterative technology and business development achieved with one step back, two steps forward. 

It’s incredibly important to follow the new, advanced technology that surfaces and keep a pulse on the industry. This can be done through attending conferences, remaining up to date with news and constantly funneling research projects. For Cory, while his core team is working on advanced research projects, he aims to remain a step or two ahead to forecast and project future components. Quick innovation with emphasis on action is the name of the game.

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About the Author:
Kelly Hoffman
Kelly Hoffman
Kelly Hoffman is a New Jersey based writer specializing in concepts of personal development, lifestyle content and memoirs. She has a passion for curating authenticity, understanding human behavior and empowering others to throw away the rule book. Kelly is inspired by nature, idiosyncrasies and the raw moments in life that connect people deeper to each other and to themselves. She believes in strong coffee, spontaneity and lists.
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