HomeFirst FAA-Approved Drone Delivery in U.S. is Successful
A medicine-delivering drone from Flirtey completed the first-ever FAA-approved package delivery on Friday, bring supplies to a rural hospital in southwest Virginia. Said trip normally takes 90 minutes of driving (on winding roads) to ferry supplies from an Oakwood, VA-based staging area to the Remote Area Clinic in Wise County, VA.
In this case, two aircraft were used instead. A larger aircraft basically piloted from the ground (though using a real-life pilot for takeoffs and landings) took the medical supplies on a 20-minute flight from the staging area to Lonesome Pines Airport in Wise County, VA. From there, a smaller drone was going to make six separate flights to get the supplies from this secondary staging area to the clinic—a three-minute trip (plus whatever time it took took to load and unload said drone’s payload).
The multi-step, multi-aircraft journey does feel a bit less impressive if you were assuming that a drone automatically carried and dropped supplies across a 35-mile distance. Unfortunately, that just wouldn’t work due to the battery life required for the trip. (Perhaps someday, just not today.)
However, the drone’s first two (shorter) flights were so successful that organizers decided to just go ahead and cram four additional flights’ worth of supplies onto a single load and deliver that in one go—saving even more time than expected.
Drone deliveries are currently banned by the Federal Aviation Administration, and it’s unclear just how the FAA might loosen its grip on drone regulations over the next year. A series of proposed rules released in February basically shot down any plans that Google and Amazon had for unmanned drone deliveries across a large distance. However, it’s certainly possible that trials like these—approved by the FAA as a one-off item—could help show the usefulness and safety of drone delivery.
“What we’re trying to do is not only develop the technology, but [develop] the public’s trust in the technology,” said Frank Jones, deputy director of NASA Langley’s Research Services Directorate, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.
Given the comprehensive logistics involved for said drone flight, one could argue that a truck could have likely made the final leg of the medical supplies trip pretty easily. Still, every bit counts for those looking to one day delivery packages, items, and other important goods from the sky.