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News & Notes

Quad Crosses English Channel

UK company sets record for longest quadcopter flight

February 19, 2016

On Tuesday, Feb. 16, a member of UK-based UAS company Ocuair became the first person to fly a drone across the English Channel.

That morning, Richard Gill spent 72 minutes flying a UAS across the 35 km (about 22 miles) English Channel. Not only is this the first drone flight across the channel, according to a press release, but it also holds the record for the longest flight of a quadcopter to date. The press release declares that flying across the English Channel has a certain pedigree within the aviation community, and after the success of Gill's flight, drones have also earned that distinction.

Piece by Piece

The drone used by the team was the Enduro-1, built using a custom airframe designed by Vulcan UAV. The press release explains that for the Enduro-1, "efficient T-Motors and blades provided the lift, Optipower provided two huge 22 Amp hour batteries, Jeti provided the secure and robust control links, and Nottingham Scientific Ltd provided the GPS tracking devices."

The Ocuair team used parts from various manufacturers to build the Enduro-1.

Ocuair

A few months after receiving approval from both the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and French Direction Générale de L'aviation Civile (DGAC), the Ocuair team was ready to make their attempt. Departing from a beach in northern France, weather was cooperative and all was going well.

Unfortunately, at around the 23 km (14 mile) mark, things began to go awry. 

“There was [sic] a couple of sticky points where we had to dodge a shipping container and another large vessel, and the GPS failed two-thirds of the way across,” explains Gill, “but all our skills and drills were in place, we knew what we were doing, the team was well-oiled and well-drilled.”

After disabling the faulty GPS, Gill flew the quad manually for the last 20 minutes of the flight. Despite the unexpected setbacks, the drone landed safely on the shores of Shakespeare Beach in Dover Harbour, UK.

Sweet Success

Upon landing, a visibly excited Gill exclaims, “It’s been really difficult, but I’m over the moon to have achieved what we’ve done today.”

Simon Vaitevicius, records officer for the British Model Flying Association, was in attendance to verify the record. “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,” says Vaitevicius.

Gill echoes these sentiments. “Drones are going to be the new aviation horizon,” he says. “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.”

Vaitevicius lays down a challenge to other drone flyers: “I’d quite welcome future record holders to come forward.” So grab your quad and a seat on the next flight to England; they’d be happy to have you. Just be sure you’re following all necessary regulations. 

Featured image: Ocuair