NASA has assisted a drone to successfully deliver pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies to patients in an outdoor free clinic in Virginia. The plane, which always has a safety pilot on board, delivered the medicine to the clinic at the Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise County.
A NASA aircraft assisted an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), operated by startup company Flirtey Inc, to deliver medical supplies to the clinic that serves more than 1,500 patients.
During the tests, a NASA Langley fixed-wing Cirrus SR22 aircraft picked up 10 pounds of pharmaceuticals and supplies from an airport in Tazewell County in southwest Virginia.
"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," he said in a statement.
They remotely piloted it a number of times at NASA Langley using their permanent ground station.
"This allowed us to demonstrate a new capability that we can use to test unmanned mission concepts and aircraft technologies in a remote location," Jones said.
The crew separated the supplies into 24 smaller packages so they could be delivered by small, unmanned drone to the free clinic during a number of flights over two hours.
A company pilot controlled the drone which lowered the pharmaceuticals to the ground by tether. Health care professionals received the packages and distributed the medications to the appropriate patients.
"These flights highlight the humanitarian possibilities of this technology," said Virginia Senator Mark R Warner.