A leading US air medical service provider – think helicopter transport of patients between hospitals or directly from the scene of an incident – has announced ambitious plans to enter the uncrewed space. Air Methods will partner with Wingcopter on a drone health delivery solution it calls “Spright.” A news release says the new network will serve the entire United States, using fleets of Wingcopter drones.
We’re a big fan of the use of drones for medical deliveries. We’re particularly fond of Zipline, which saves lives on a daily basis in Africa, and is also expanding with some deployments in the United States. (We’ve written about Zipline before; it’s an amazingly successful service.)
If anything, Zipline has proven beyond a doubt that uncrewed aircraft can deliver critical medical supplies more quickly and efficiently than by land. And when it comes to medical deliveries, every second can count.
Air Methods + Wingcopter = Spright
This is, in many ways, a natural and forward-thinking evolution for Air Methods. With some 300 bases already dotted around the US, including rural areas, it already has the infrastructure and medical/Airspace knowledge for a drone delivery operation. And so it plans to deploy fleets of the new Wingcopter 198 as the core delivery system for a forthcoming network called Spright.
Here’s JaeLynn Williams, CEO of Air Methods:
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated some of the real challenges in our health care system creating an opportunity to find better solutions to extend access to healthcare, especially in rural America. That is why we are doing what Air Methods does best, taking to the skies, using the latest in technology and drone innovation, delivering hope and facilitating healing with speed and efficiency that was previously unimaginable. We see Spright serving a vastly underserved market and playing a huge role in a future full of better outcomes for everyone.
The Wingcopter 198
We’ve seen the previous Wingcopter up close. We like its fixed-wing VTOL design a lot. We’re particularly impressed with the geared system that connects the forward and aft motors. It allows for a precise transition between vertical and forward flight, with the connected motors moving at precisely the same rate and angle.
And, did we mention how great this aircraft looks?
Pilot project this fall
Air Methods and Wingcopter will begin initial trials of the drone health delivery system this fall. It will start out with a partnership with Hutchinson Regional Medical System in Hutchinson, Kansas. More details will be available later on this proof-of-concept deployment. By the way, if you’re liking the look of that Wingcopter gif, here’s more from the news release about the drone:
The Wingcopter 198 is a state-of-the-art autonomous eVTOL delivery drone that enables safe, reliable, fast, and bi-directional medical deliveries. It is designed to provide maximum flexibility and ease of use in operations. The company’s patented tilt-rotor technology allows for vertical take-off and landing, while also enabling efficient forward flight over long ranges, thus eliminating the need for additional infrastructure. The drone has a range of up to 68 miles (110 kilometers), a maximum speed of 90 mph (145 kilometers per hour) and can carry a payload of up to 13 lbs. (6 kg).
And Wingcopter? It’s thrilled…
Not surprisingly, Wingcopter’s co-founder and CEO, Tom Plümmer, is pleased about the project:
We are thrilled to team up with Air Methods to create a life-saving drone delivery network throughout the United States. Our technology has been used globally to effectively deliver medical supplies, for example insulin in Ireland, children’s vaccines in Vanuatu, emergency medication in Malawi, and just recently, blood samples in Germany. Our vision to ‘save and improve lives’ resonates perfectly with Air Methods’ legacy of providing lifesaving care, combined with Spright’s ambition to improve the quality of healthcare across the U.S. by deploying fleets of Wingcopters, and we are excited about scaling this together.
Delivering critical medical supplies by drone is a proven model. Of course, there will still be hurdles with Uncrewed Traffic Management to ensure that routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights can be carried out safely in controlled (and uncontrolled) airspace.
But those days are coming – along with critical medical supplies, delivered by drone.
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