UK Green Lights UAV Medical Supply Delivery Trials

Windracer Ultra
Credit: Solent Transport

The British government has approved trials to use a fixed-wing UAV to fly medical supplies from the UK mainland to the Isle of Wight.

The tests, announced by Transport Minister Grant Shapps on April 24, sees the use of a locally developed twin-engine Windracer UAV flying between Solent Airport, near Portsmouth, to St. Mary’s Hospital, Newport, on the island. The Windracer Ultra has been designed to carry a payload of up to 100 kg (220.4 lb.) over a range of 1,000 km (621.3 mi.), but the trials will see it carry a maximum of 40 kg. Each flight will last 20 min.

The work is being led by the University of Southampton through the Solent Transport Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project. Part of the project is looking at developing an air traffic management system for manned and unmanned air systems operating in the Solent area, which includes the cities of Portsmouth and Southampton. Studies will look at the operation of UAS between hospitals in the region.

The British government has given the Solent Transport project grants worth £28 million ($34.7 million), including £8 million for testing drones.

The drone flights had been due to get underway in 2021 but were accelerated due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“The concept of using drones to deliver medical supplies has been proven in countries such as Rwanda, where they are helping to save lives by reaching isolated communities quickly and cheaply,” said Tom Cherrett, professor of logistics and transport management at the University of Southampton. “The research we are embarking on over the next four years will investigate how such unmanned systems could be used in shared airspace and integrated within existing logistics operations in the UK.”

Main tasks for the drone are the transport of urgent supplies. Normally such equipment would be transferred by road transport using regular ferry crossings, but service has been reduced during the COVID-19 outbreak. The Windracer platform uses a twin-boom flying body-like fuselage combined with long wings and a fixed landing gearing to provide a payload bay similar to a truck or a sedan automobile.

The not-for-profit company developed the platform to deliver medical aid.

“The university is currently finalizing its proposal prior to obtaining final approval from the Civil Aviation Authority,” the regulator told Aerospace DAILY.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.