One day, packages delivered to your door may not come from the mailman, but by a drone swooping down from the sky. At least, that’s what Amazon and a select few other companies are hoping, and the dream has taken another step to becoming reality in the U.S. after the first FAA-approved delivery-by-drone mission took place on July 17.
Announced back in June, the mission was a joint project between NASA, The Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership at Virginia Tech, The Health Wagon, Remote Area Medical, several other firms, and Flirtey — a startup specializing in drone deliveries. The mission actually involved two drones, one a large remote-controlled aircraft, and a second smaller hexacopter, and was designed to show how unmanned aircraft can be used to make routine deliveries — in this case, containing medical supplies.
The packages were loaded into the large drone — a NASA-modified version of the Cirrus SR22, as Flirtey’s drone can’t make long distance flights — at a small airport in Tazewell County, Virginia and flown to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise, a distance of 35 miles. The Cirrus SR22 was controlled by remote, but a pilot was onboard the plane for safety, and to help control takeoff and landing.
Close up of Flirtey delivering in Virginia today! pic.twitter.com/7genpCweHF
— Flirtey (@Fly_Flirtey) July 17, 2015
On arrival, the first of three medical kits were loaded into Flirtey’s hexacopter drone, which made a three-minute flight from the airport to an outdoor clinic at the Wise County Fairground. The package was lowered to the ground using a tether. Initially expected to be split into six stages, the first two went so smoothly, all the remaining packages were put inside the drone for a third and final run instead.
Frank Jones, deputy director at NASA Langley, on completion of the mission is quoted as saying, “After it’s all done, you sit back and go ‘Wow, we did something really neat today. You demonstrated an operation that really does improve the quality of folk’s lives — and in some cases can save lives.” Matt Sweeney, CEO of Flirtey, is hopeful the successful mission could change the FAA’s thinking on unmanned drone deliveries in the U.S..