NASA Aircraft Assists in Drone Medical-Supply Delivery Research

by | Jul 21, 2015

A NASA Langley fixed-wing Cirrus SR22 aircraft, a UAS technology testbed that can be flown remotely from the ground, picked up and delivered 10 pounds of pharmaceuticals and supplies for an outdoor free clinic. (Credit: NASA)

A NASA Langley fixed-wing Cirrus SR22 aircraft, a UAS technology testbed that can be flown remotely from the ground, picked up and delivered 10 pounds of pharmaceuticals and supplies for an outdoor free clinic. (Credit: NASA)

Some underserved Virginia patients were among the first to be officially helped by an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), more commonly known as a drone, during research flights to a medical clinic in Wise County during July 2015.

In accordance with research flight plans authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a full-sized aircraft operated by NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and a hexacopter drone operated by drone startup Flirtey Inc., delivered pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies to an outdoor free clinic. The annual clinic, which is held at the Wise County Fairgrounds, is run by Remote Area Medical and the Health Wagon, a local healthcare outreach organization. It typically serves more than 1,500 patients.

During the tests, a NASA Langley fixed-wing Cirrus SR22 aircraft, a UAS technology testbed that can be flown remotely from the ground, picked up 10 pounds of pharmaceuticals and supplies from an airport in Tazewell County in southwest Virginia. The plane, which always has a safety pilot on board, delivered the medicine to the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County.

This first unmanned aerial delivery gave us the chance to do some critical research and mission exploration with our Cirrus SR22, said Frank Jones, deputy director of NASA Langley's Research Services Directorate that oversees all Langley aircraft. “We flew the aircraft remotely beyond visual line of sight for the first time from a portable ground station. We had remotely piloted it a number of times at NASA Langley using our permanent ground station, but this allowed us to demonstrate a new capability that we can use to test unmanned mission concepts and aircraft technologies in a remote location.

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