50kg payload drone flight revolutionises Covid-19 NHS medical supply delivery in Cornwall

Windracers complete first successful UAV flight via an air corridor between mainland Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, funded by Innovate UK as part of a response to support the NHS with COVID-19 logistics

 

  • Windracers autonomous ULTRA UAV drone is the only operational drone with a carrying capacity of up to 100Kg over 1,000 km
  • During the flight the ULTRA UAV delivered a 50kg load of medical supplies to St Mary’s NHS in just thirty minutes  
  • £100,000 funding from AeroSpace Cornwall will enable the development of the ULTRA drone to further capacity and accelerate the use of drone delivery for humanitarian aid across the globe

In the past year the ability to gain quick access to medical supplies has been of the utmost importance. As a result of the pandemic, innovative new technology is now being trailed in order to cut the delivery time of vital supplies, thanks to Innovate UK funding to support the NHS with COVID-19 logistics.

On the 15th of December, Windracers, a UAV company who aim to provide transportation services to the global humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection communities, completed a successful flight; delivering medical supplies from Land’s End to the St Mary’s NHS on the Isles of Scilly in just thirty minutes.  

Windracers autonomous ULTRA UAV drone - the only operational drone with a carrying capacity of up to 100Kg over 1,000 km - had already proven its capabilities during the first national lockdown with a successful trial across the Solent Water, from Solent Airport to the Isle of Wight. Following this success Windracers were awarded funding to trial this technology in Cornwall, being granted the first special airspace permissions to do so by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This event was a key milestone in the Future Flight Challenge (FFC) project, funded by the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The trial involved a Windracers ULTRA UAV drone flying between Lands End Airport and St Mary’s Airport on the Isles of Scilly with a 50kg load. The success of the flight is a significant advancement in the growth of autonomous UAV services between airfields; opening up the potential to provide an additional transit network as backup to the existing logistics systems. Normally medical supplies are transported via ferries between the Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, which are currently operating on a reduced service as a result of Covid-19. 

The flight highlighted the power of this technology to safeguard and futureproof the transportation systems of vital aid. An air corridor between the island and mainland will hugely benefit patients by speeding up the delivery of medication and reducing waiting times for test results; demonstrating the global implications that future UAV air corridors could have on emergency medical care and humanitarian aid delivery. 

Charles Scales, CEO, Windracers: “We are proud to contribute to helping the NHS fight Covid-19.  There have been many logistical challenges for the NHS and with these unique CAA permissions, this will be the first time a large, useful, economic, load carrying UAV is used between the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall. We can help remove a few of the straining blockages to deliver efficient NHS logistics. We are very proud to be part of this ground-breaking project. I want to thank our team and our project partners, the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, Cornwall Development Company, Civil Aviation Authority, DronePrep, Consortiq and University of Southampton.” 

Stephen Wright, Executive Chairman of Windracers: “We have been working with the CAA to deliver on this innovative project to support our NHS. To be awarded their sign-off on our safety case and concept of operations is an important milestone in Windracers development.  It has been a pleasure to work with the CAA which is a gold standard and world respected safety regulator. In respect of our core values of safety and security of operations we have been working with the Cornwall Development Company and University of Southampton for over three years to design and build the Windracers ULTRA UAV.  Our aim has always been to provide a fast, cost effective service to transport humanitarian aid, medical supplies or other critical materials over long distances, whether over land, water or hostile terrain, and to deliver where other vehicles or aircraft are unable to access.”

James Fairbairn, Business Development Manager, AeroSpace Cornwall: “It is fantastic to see this innovative technology being piloted from Cornwall. Windracers ULTRA UAV offers a vital point of connection during the pandemic and beyond, and this successful trial is the first step in tapping into the possibilities of drone delivery for humanitarian aid. We are very excited to see Windracers develop the capabilities of the ULTRA UAV further with our match funding.” 

Councillor Robert Francis, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly: "We're delighted that Windracers has chosen to trial a delivery drone on the route between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Being a remote island community, the airlink to the mainland is a lifeline and a drone service has the potential to provide our residents and businesses with greater resilience, particularly during the winter months and in periods of bad weather. It also offers the possibility of speeding up time-sensitive and urgent deliveries. We'll be monitoring the success of this trial with interest."

Going forward, Windracers intend to maximise the potential of the ULTRA UAV, which uses an innovative high-reliability avionics system developed by Windracers’ sister company, Distributed Avionics. To continue the development of their technology Windracers have been awarded a £100,000 match funded grant from AeroSpace Cornwall, who is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund and Cornwall Council. This will allow them to complete a second generation ULTRA UAV with significant enhancements to their first UAV. Further development of the ULTRA will not only benefit the progression of the air corridor between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, but will also take Windracers closer to their objective of providing transport services to the humanitarian aid, research and environmental protection communities; specifically in countries with minimal road access where this technology could provide life changing assistance.