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Remote helicopter, drone businesses taking off in Malden

Sam Le, president of HeliDirect in Malden, with a Goblin 570 radio-controlled helicopter and a DJI Inspire 1 drone. Le began selling radio-controlled aircraft online from his Malden home 10 years ago, and has built his company into a $13 million business. He has plans to open a 1,000-square-foot retail store in the city.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Sam Le started his remote-control helicopter and drone business from his Malden home 10 years ago. It grew into a $13 million company now based in a warehouse just outside Malden Square.

Nearly all of his business is done online at helidirect.com, a website he built after he was laid off from a computer programming job in 2005. Le — who was born in Saigon, the former capital of South Vietnam, 40 years ago — plans to open a 1,000-square-foot retail store in the front of his warehouse at 730 Eastern Ave. in March.

“He’s the largest e-retailer in the [hobby helicopter] space,” said John J. Polo, a former senior executive at Kraft Foods North America, who has been working as HeliDirect’s chief operating officer for nearly a year.


Polo is also the COO for Top Flight Technologies, a spinoff of HeliDirect located in the same building. Le is the lead investor in that company, which is owned by Long Phan, a Vietnamese immigrant with a doctorate from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Polo said Top Flight promises to revolutionize the commercial drone industry by building hybrids that can fly for hours instead of minutes.

“He’s going to change the world,” Polo said. “Drones are restricted to battery power. They can only fly for about 15 to 20 minutes. Top Flight has invented a hybrid that can fly 2½ hours on one gallon of gas.”

Mark Micheli can be reached at markfmicheli@gmail.com.