‘Game-changing’ electric aircraft makes Cornish debut

Consortium partners and key stakeholders working to open up low-level airspace for drone operations across Cornwall were treated to a hands on demo of a new, long-distance cargo drone  platform during a special event at Spaceport Cornwall this week.

Open Skies Cornwall – a UKRI’s Future Flight Challenge, delivered by Innovate – is working to establish a permanent operational environment in Cornish airspace that could allow end users to benefit from opportunities to improve connectivity and services for remote communities through drone operations like the delivery of pathology samples.

The event was arranged to showcase the Pyka Pelican Cargo drone’s capabilities, – a fully electric, remote-operated drone that can fly up to 200 miles, carrying cargo up to 1.85m3 in volume and weighing up to 175kg.

Gareth Whatmore, CEO of DronePrep and Project Leader of Open Skies Cornwall, said: “Open Skies Cornwall’s year long consultation with end users and Cornish communities has revealed a need to develop pioneering infrastructure and operations to help introduce large payload, electric drone capabilities to keep remote communities connected to essential services.

“The demo day was a fantastic opportunity for Open Skies Cornwall consortia members to gain first-hand experience of the largest electrically-powered, civilian cargo drone in the world, which we are delighted to be onboarding to the project via consortium member Skyports Drone Services. Consortia partners were able to develop their understanding of what it offers, how it operates and explore how it could potentially be deployed, before regular flights commence in 2024.

“Testing the next generation of drones, their infrastructure requirements and enabling technologies, is a key part of our research and development work here at Open Skies Cornwall and it was exciting to see our consortia members so inspired by the potential this groundbreaking new aircraft offers.”

Alex Brown of drone operations partner Skyports Drone Services, added: “Pyka’s Pelican Cargo drone is a game-changing aircraft that offers the scale and agility required by organisations – such as those in healthcare and logistics – to really revolutionise the way current services are delivered, improving connectivity and services for remote communities.

“Earlier consultations as part of the Open Skies Cornwall programme identified a number of use cases where drones capable of carrying large, heavy loads might be required. We were delighted to procure and be able to demonstrate Pyka’s Pelican Cargo aircraft to our consortia partners and look forward to working closely with them over the coming months to integrate its capabilities into the programme to realise its full potential.”

Open Skies Cornwall is creating thematic demonstration environments in Cornwall for real world end users, technical specialists, UAS operators, innovators and academics to pursue, unpack, explore and test solutions that will lead to development and integration of drone services across the county.

John Groom, NHS Director of Integrated Care for NHS Cornwall & Isles of Scilly ICB said “We are excited to be included in this research, which has the potential to support patients in some of our most remote communities in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.  If successful, it will enable samples to be transported more quickly to pathology labs at the Royal Cornwall Hospital and help these patients get faster, more reliable results from tests carried out close to their homes.”

Simon Masters, Innovate UK Deputy Director – Future Flight said: “This project is making great strides in developing systems to allow drones to be used across Cornwall, supporting the delivery of key public-services and industries. We are excited to be working with project partners and look forward to seeing new aircraft like the Pyka Pelican fly very soon.”

The consortium benefits from demonstration partnerships with NHS Cornwall and Isles of Scilly ICB, Falmouth Harbour and Royal Mail, and is supported by the insights and local knowledge of Cornwall Council. Its experienced technology team is formed of industry pioneers including DronePrep, Neuron Innovations, Skyports Drone Deliveries and the University of Southampton. Together, consortia members have been responsible for the UK’s first NHS and Royal Mail drone deliveries, regulatory advancements in the transport of medical goods, and for achieving the first Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) approvals in the UK.