The Royal Mail has announced a trial of the first out-of-sight, autonomous scheduled drone flights between the UK mainland and an island. The trial will use Uncrewed Aerial Vehicle (UAV) flights initially to deliver Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), COVID testing kits and other mail to the Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall.
The Government backed trial will feature two drones:
- A large twin-engine Windracers Ltd UAV to make the 70 mile Out-of-Sight flight to the islands’ airport on St. Mary’s, carrying up to 100kg worth of mail at a time – equivalent to a typical delivery round. Then…
- A smaller drone, operated by Skyports, will transport smaller packages on to a number of delivery points throughout the islands.
Charles Scales, Chief Executive Officer at Windracers, says: “It’s been a privilege and an honour to serve the Isles of Scilly and Royal Mail’s customers and employees with our autonomous, 100kg over 1,000-kilometre, ULTRA UAV. The ULTRA (Uncrewed Large Transport Aircraft) platform was designed to supply and serve people in remote locations, whether to children in need of medical or food aid in a country as large as South Sudan, or to serve island communities within our home shores. This project has proven the efficiency and robustness of ULTRA, with each round trip being 211km and being completed in less than two hours. With our unique CAA permissions, this will be the first time a large, economic, load carrying UAV is used between the Isles of Scilly and mainland Cornwall in a month-long trial.
SimpleFlying.com reports that the Windracer UAV does indeed take 2 hours for the round trip, flying at 2,000ft. The flight path (on Radarbox.com) shows it flies straight out to sea from Perranporth Airfield near Newquay so that only a tiny proportion at the start & end of the flight is over land.
Currently the Windracer UAV is remotely controlled but the plan is that in future it will be fully automated without the need for a pilot on the ground.
The idea behind the trial is that parcel services to the Scilly Isles can be more efficient using a large UAV since existing services use ships, manned aircraft, and inter-island boats, which can be disrupted by weather and tides. By “weather” they mean mostly fog. However, the more prevalent disruptive “weather” in that neck of the woods is high winds. Something I suspect that will keep the UAV grounded before a manned aircraft or ferry.
It’s not the first time Royal Mail has dabbled with drones.
In December last year, they became the first nationwide UK parcel carrier to deliver a parcel via drone to a remote lighthouse on the Isle of Mull in Scotland. In coming months, a consultation will be undertaken with residents on the use of drones to deliver to rural communities on the island.
So next time you are holidaying on St Mary’s, keep a weather eye open for a large UAV with the Royal Mail crest on it!