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  • William Hunt MBE

BVLOS Drone Flight to IOW and Back

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

History was made in Binstead this afternoon (Saturday 9th May 20) when a UAV landed on the Isle of Wight and took off again in a special UK trial fast tracked by the Government. The double engined, fixed-wing ‘Windracers Ultra’ drone took off from Lee-on-Solent at around 14:05 and touched down safely on the Island at Binstead Airfield at 14:23 after circling several times. A team on the ground conducted a number of checks and the UAV took off again without fault at 15:40, again circling several times before returning to the mainland. A payload of personal protective equipment was successfully offloaded from the drone and transported by road to St Mary’s Hospital. What made today’s flight so special is that it is the first time outside of military use that a UAV has been allowed to fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) meaning the pilot is controlling the drone remotely from a significant distance away – in this case 5 miles.

The Government has stepped in to fast track trials of drones to carry out autonomous flights to and from the Isle of Wight. Although the concept has been on the cards for sometime, it has been realised that the flights must be established quicker to support the Island during the COVID-19 crisis. The Windracers Ultra Drone can carry a whopping 100kg for 1,000 miles, but during the trial period it will carry a maximum of 40kg, starting with PPE before then expanding to carry medicines and blood, as and when approved. It it expected that as many as 4 flights a day could be carried out in the future. The CAA gave the approval for the inaugural cross-Solent flight to take place earlier this month with many speculating as to when exactly the flight would take place. This afternoon’s benign conditions resulted in a green light and the flight came just 24 hours after the drone ventured over water for the first time.

New EASA rules which have yet to come into force, facilitate some UAV operations posing a low risk in the Specific Category. For those, drone operators will be allowed to just send a declaration to the respective authority instead of applying and waiting for an authorisation. The standard scenarios include Urban VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) and Rural BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) above control ground area operations.

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