Drones capable of carrying 220lb (100kg) loads more than 620 miles (1,000km) are to be used to ensure the Isle of Wight’s hospital can maintain essential medical supplies in the fight against Covid-19.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the plan on Friday to fast-track the launch of drone trials between the mainland and St Mary’s Hospital in Newport to ensure the island is fully equipped.
Ferry services between Portsmouth and Southampton to the island have been massively reduced amid a big fall in passenger traffic, prompting the back-up supply plan.
The trial, the first of its kind in the UK, will involve a double-engine, fixed-winged Windracers Ultra UAV aircraft drone with a carrying capacity of up to 220lb (100kg) in a space the size of an estate car boot and with a distance capability of more than 620 miles (1,000km).
A Windracers spokesman said: “The trial will benefit patients on the Isle of Wight by speeding up the delivery to and from the hospital.
“In the initial operation it will be carrying loads of not more than 40kg (88lb) and the type of cargo will depend on the needs of the hospital and be subject to permissions granted by the Civil Aviation Authority.”
Stephen Wright, executive chairman of Windracers, said: “We have been working with the 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.”
Windracers chief executive Charles Scales said: “We are very pleased that we are able to contribute to helping the NHS fight Covid-19.
“This will be the first time a large UAV is used in shared airspace and integrated within existing logistics operations in the UK. We are very proud to be part of this ground-breaking project.”
Maggie Oldham, chief executive of the Isle of Wight NHS Trust, said “Providing NHS services on an island comes with a number of challenges, so it is fantastic to see the progress being made to support health care on the Isle of Wight through the use of new and innovative technology.
“This work has the potential to significantly improve services for our local community by reducing waiting times for test results and speeding up the transfer of important, possibly life-saving medication.”
The trial, which is due to start next week, is part of a £29 million Future Transport Zone (FTZ) project funded by the Department for Transport to implement innovative future transport solutions around personal mobility and freight movements in south Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.