About our name: The Ripper Group company name is drawn from a popular Australian phrase, “You Little Ripper!” The word ripper used in this way means “absolutely excellent, or something exciting extreme approval” (Macquarie Dictionary). It’s the perfect name for a company who utilises their expertise in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to pioneer changes in the way we rescue, record, maintain, inform and identify.
In the immediate aftermath of devastating Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed most of New Orleans in 2005, Kevin Weldon, the founder of the Ripper Group, observed on a late-night news broadcast an unmanned drone helicopter flying along flooded streets searching for survivors. This was the first deployment of drones in a disaster and they were instrumental in helping to find some 5000 people, stranded and alive inside their flooded homes. The drones sent pictures back to the Central Control, which then dispatched rescue teams to those in trouble.
As the founding president of the International Lifesaving Federation, Kevin knew that this new drone technology could change the reach, speed and capability of rescue in Australia. Whilst head of International Lifesaving, Kevin had a track record of supporting innovations in surf rescue on Australia’s beaches: The Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters, the ‘rubber ducky’ inflatable rescue boat, and the torpedo rescue tubes.
“The aim…(is) to accomplish things with search and rescue that were impossible to even dream about 10 or 20 years ago,” Mr Weldon said.
Our Founding Partnership
It would be some time before the RPAS/drone industry developed the technology and AI capability for this new rescue capability to be realised. Kevin Weldon kept the vision alive until he had the opportunity to sit next to Brian Hartzer, the CEO of Westpac, at the Westpac Helicopter Ball.
Hartzer immediately saw the possibilities. Two weeks later they were given the opportunity to present the whole vision to Westpac at their head office. This meeting was later recorded by Westpac as ‘an unusual meeting – a bank sitting down with a small company founded by Weldon, the first president of the International Lifesaving Federation, and Paul Scully-Power AM, the first Australian-born person to journey into space, to discuss working on the possibility of developing a search and rescue service in Australia using remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS).’
The Rest is History…
“The Westpac Little Ripper Lifesaver drone helped save two teenage boys in wild surf at Lennox Head beach, about 750 kilometres north of Sydney, by dropping a “rescue pod”, which self-inflated once hitting the water. The dramatic rescue at around 11:30am (AEDT) involved two people on the beach, Surf Life Saving NSW’s Jai Sheridan flying the drone and a Westpac Little Ripper senior trainer, marking what is believed to be the first time globally a drone was involved in an ocean rescue.’
From the development of the strategy, to the testing, training and final deployment, the relationship with Westpac continues to pay dividends in a way only the rescue of life can measure.
Dr Paul Scully-Power AM
Foundation Advisory Board Member
Dr Paul Scully Power is an oceanographer, integrator, strategist and Australia’s first astronaut flying aboard Challenger on the 13th mission of the space shuttle. He is an expert in sensors, remote sensing, systems analysis and ICT and is credited with discovering the phenomenon of spiral eddies in the oceans. Paul was recently designated the NSW Government Space Industry Ambassador by the Premier.
He was the inaugural President of the UN International Commission on Space Oceanography and has held the Distinguished Chair of Underwater Acoustics in the US Navy. Paul was a Research Associate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and Chairman of Membership of the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering.
He has served with the Royal Australian Navy, the UK Royal Navy, the US Navy, NASA, the Pentagon, US Military Intelligence and the White House, and has held executive appointments in high tech, defence and security programs under for Presidents: Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton.
He currently serves on the Advisory Boards of the NSW Smart Sensing Network, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Ping Data, and the Water Initiative for Africa.
Hon John Brown AO
The Hon. John Brown was the Member for Parramatta in the Federal House of Representatives for 13 years from 1977, and held various Ministerial portfolios including Arts, Sports, Environment and Territories.
In 1986, he was named Australian of the Year by The Australiannewspaper and he was the founding Chairman of the Tourism Task Force (now the Tourism and Transport Forum). John is the Founder and Patron of the Sport and Tourism Youth Foundation. He was a long-term member of the Centennial Institute Board of Governors at Prince Alfred Hospital.
John’s commitment to sport resulted in numerous honours. He received The Olympic Silver Order of Merit for his contribution to the Australian Olympic Movement and was appointed as an International Honoree of the US Academy of Sport. In 1993 he was awarded an Order of Australia for his services to Sport, Tourism and the Australian Parliament.
John continues to work for things he believes in. He established the Sport and Tourism Youth Foundation (formerly the John Brown Foundation), which awarded hundreds of scholarships to talented but impecunious young Australians in both sport and tourism. A member of the Sydney Olympics 2000 Bid Committee, John was also a founding Director of the Sydney Olympic Games Organising Committee (SOCOG). He has held positions including Director of Macquarie Tourism and Leisure, Director of Canterbury Bankstown Leagues Club and a consultant to Service Corporation International Australia.
Advisory Board Member
Harold has more than thirty years’ experience as a respected independent strategic advisor and trusted China specialist, drawing on a background of engagement across a deep network of commercial, cultural, and political spectrums within China.
He is the founder/Chief Executive Weldon Global (Hkg/Beijing) Consulting and current Board Member of the Australia-China Council–Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Harold’s expertise in new market entry includes identifying key partnership opportunities, marketplace intelligence, facilitating commercial opportunities and enabling the delivery of end-to-end deal transactions for pre-qualified clients from Australia, China, and the rest of the world.
Harold’s passion for supporting Australian innovation particularly during the incubation phase has led him into numerous mentorship and board positions, in particular, the Queensland’s State Government sponsored technology incubator ILAB, the Creative Industries Precinct at the Queensland University of Technology and the Australian Micro-electronics Centre and Füri Knives, the innovative Australian start-up which is now a global company.
He is adept at providing independent, well-researched, market–ready advice to Australian businesses or not-for-profit organisations seeking to extend the reach of their products or services into a particular global market.
After a career in magazine and book design, Tony helped develop, then designed and produced the initial Australian Geographic Journal for Dick Smith in 1985 and was the company’s creative director for 17 years, designing and producing a long list of books and magazines.
Tony Gordon Printcounsel was launched in 2002, offering graphic design, print management and production services to select clients in the publishing and adventure travel industries.
A long-time design and publishing collaborator with Kevin Weldon on various publishing ventures, Tony teamed up with Kevin again in 2015 to develop the Ripper Group’s corporate identity. He continues to advise on the Group’s publishing, branding and marketing requirements.
Kevin Weldon AM
Executive Chairman and Founder
Kevin has an impressive track record in supporting rescue innovation. He was the Founding President of both the World Life Saving Movement and the International Lifesaving Federation and during Kevin’s leadership the following iconic rescue initiatives were introduced into Australia’s beaches and communities: The Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters, the “rubber ducky” inflatable rescue boat, and the torpedo rescue tubes.
He is a distinguished Australian publisher, businessman, aviator and successful entrepreneur. Kevin was the founding managing director of the Paul Hamlyn Group, which was one of the most successful publishing ventures Australia has seen to date and was responsible for landmark publishing titles which supported and recorded our unique national heritage, wildlife and lifestyle.
He went on to form his own company, Weldon International, and was responsible for best-selling Australian and international publishing projects such as the Macquarie Dictionaryand China the Long March. Considered a visionary and innovator, Kevin prototyped the world’s first electronic book in the early 1980s, which is now housed in the Powerhouse Museum.
Eddie Bennet BM
Chief Executive Officer
Eddie is a specialist in the management of emergencies and disasters, with over 30 years active engagement in aviation, marine and land search and rescue.
He is a qualified NVG helicopter rescue air crewman with over 3000 flight hours including over 25 years with the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service. He has held high level management and operational roles including Chief Training Officer, Chief Examiner, Crew Chief, Operations Coordinator, State Tasking Officer and is the longest serving State Aerial Services Officer.
Previous to this Eddie has held operational, tactical and management roles in the Queensland Police Service including Water Police, Search and Rescue Coordinator. He is currently a Director at the Medical Rescue Training Academy and All Terrain Driving.
Eddie is the recipient of the International Life Saving Citation of Merit, Surf Life Saving’s Jack McMaster Medal for Outstanding Leadership, National Meritorious Service Medal, National Emergency Response Medal, National Police Service Medal, Police Ethical and Diligent Service Medal, Queensland Flood Citation and was recognised as Queensland Regional Achiever of the Year.
Chief Operating Officer
For over 10 years Ben has been actively involved in manned and unmanned aviation operations for search and rescue, disaster and emergency response and EMS. As a senior NVG and winch operator qualified Helicopter Rescue and EMS aircrewman, he has a BSc and holds a Certificate IV in Aviation (Aircrewman) with over 2200 operational flight hours and has undertaken numerous emergency missions saving many lives.
Ben continued his passion for aviation, successfully applying his broad skills and experience to unmanned aircraft through his own UAV company before joining the Ripper Group, where he has been integral to the ongoing success and growth of the company.
Business Development Manager
Jason has a firm belief in the importance of building lasting and trusting relationships at all levels of the supply chain. He has experience and expertise in building new business opportunities from supporting individual retailers at the grass roots level to large strategic corporate deals that contribute to brand leadership and profitable partnerships.
In addition, when it comes time to operationalise these strategic decisions, Jason has direct experience in supporting teams and clients through this transformation; from the ability to respond to changing market and environmental demands through to coaching and managing staff.
The Ripper Aviation Academy General Manager
Rob brings with him a wealth of training, operational and management experience, often delivered in complex and dynamic environments both domestically and overseas. He holds CASA RPAS certifications as well as qualifications relating to business, training and project management.
He has expertise and experience in utilising RPAS commercially during previous roles as a commercial diver and water asset inspector, providing detailed reports and imagery for clients throughout NSW and QLD. These past roles, including more recently a 12-year career as Maritime Warfare Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, sub-specialising in Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving, have encompassed training and assessment, operational planning, policy development and the introduction of new capabilities.
Leanne St George
Leanne St George’s expertise has been pivotal in the Ripper Group’s achieving outstanding media results over the past two years; to date over 3482 media reports with a cumulative audience of 28,002,055 and an ASR of $6,353,580.
She is director of Leanne St George & Associates and has worked with an impressive range of national sports and performance events and major sponsorships such as the Surf Life Saving Series, cricket, horse racing, golf, polo, V8 Supercar Championship series, Indy car racing and Australia’s three major football codes of Rugby Union, Rugby League and Australian Rules Football.
Leanne has travelled extensively on behalf of clients in Australia, New Zealand, China and USA, and has worked with high profile clients such as News Limited, Australian Rugby Union, Ferrari Australia, Alfa Romeo and Polo Events Australia.