Los Angeles Times
Drone delivers medicine to rural Virginia
Days after the first Federal Aviation Administrationapproved drone delivery successfully dropped off medicine at a Virginia health fair, researchers behind the mission are looking ahead to future uses of this technology in humanitarian crises.
The delivery Friday took 24 packages of medicine and other medical supplies to an annual health fair in Wise County, Va., in the middle of coal country in Appalachia.
More than 1,500 patients typically come out to this free event. Medical supplies are usually driven on mountain roads to the location, which can take an hour and a half to reach, said Jon Greene, associate director of the mid- Atlantic aviation partnership at Virginia Tech, a partner in the event.
Virginia Tech’s unmanned aircraft systems test site program is one of six in the nation approved by the FAA.
The medications’ journey started in Tazewell County in southwest Virginia, where theywere flown in a NASA aircraft that can be remotely operated from the ground, although it always has a safety pilot on board.
After the NASA aircraft landed at Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County, a hexacopter drone operated by Australian start- up Flirtey Inc. flew the supplies 0.7 mile to the health clinic.
A one- way flight to the clinic took only 21⁄2 minutes, and it took three trips to deliver all the packages, said Matthew Sweeny, chief executive of Flirtey.
“I think this will be remembered as a Kitty Hawk moment,” he said of the drone delivery by citing the North Carolina location of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight. “I’m really happy about how well it went.”
Traffic in the area was stopped so the drone never flew above cars or people, Greene said.
This mission was the first in a series of research flights to improve humanitarian response capabilities, he said.
“We foresee not just medicines, but delivering small amounts of food and water to people that are isolated in emergency situations,” Greene said.
Frank Jones, deputy director of NASA Langley’s Research Services Directorate, said unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, are here to stay.
“We need to find out how to utilize them in the right way,” he said.