For all their impressive attributes, flight-time has never been a strong suit for quadcopters. Sure — short distances and quick jaunts are no problem, but lengthy drone trips rarely make the news (mostly because they just don’t happen all that often). But now, one British pilot has upended the drone world, guiding a custom quadcopter across the English Channel in a stunning 72-minute flight. It’s a first for these unmanned flying devices, and U.K. commercial drone operator Ocuair can now claim the honor of a drone’s maiden voyage across the historic waterway.
The Channel has long served as a sort of yardstick for technological (and even human) achievements. From Steam ship Élise, the first steam ship to cross the waterway in the early 19th century, to Louis Blériot’s famous flight nearly a century later, the English Channel maintains a sort of prestige for marking our accomplishments.
And this drone trip is no exception — the Ocuair team customized a quadcopter they named Enduro, which launched its journey from a beach in northern France.
From there, Richard Gill, the company’s operations director, served as the pilot during the 21.7 mile trip across the waters. The human team followed their machine by boat, constantly staying within a range of 1,640 feet. And just over an hour and 10 minutes after takeoff, the Enduro landed safely in Dover, in the southeast of England.
Video footage of the landing shows an obviously excited Gill exclaiming, “It’s been really difficult, but I’m over the moon to have achieved what we’ve done today.” The momentous achievement was verified by Simon Vaitevicius, records officer for the British Model Flying Association, who noted, “This record is so important in the context of future drone activity such as delivery of parcels and things like that, because it’s a proof of concept, proof that drones can be used over distance reliably over time.”
And the Ocuair team is clearly optimistic about the future of drones as a transportation option. “Drones are going to be the new aviation horizon,” said Gill. “They’re going to change the way we do everything in the future, from delivering parcels to search-and-rescue and inspections. So, I wanted to be a part of that history.”
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