The world’s first course which trains pilots to fly drones so far out of visual sight they may even be in other countries has been set up in the UK.
The course is so specialised the training is done by former RAF and Royal Navy fighter pilots – along with ex-Army Air Corps helicopter pilots and Civil Aviation Authority examiners – who work for top drone training company Flyby Technology (www.bvlosdronetraining.com) and is recognised as a game-changer for how drones will be used in the future worldwide.
The BVLOS course, which stands for Beyond Visual Line of Sight, is taking how drones have been used by the military – flying them all over the world on missions controlled by pilots out of sight or even hundreds or thousands of miles away – and turning it into a civilian concept.
They will be overwhelmingly used as a force for good which is happening already with Flyby drones being deployed in France to spray anti-bacterial products in the battle against coronavirus. Drones from Yorkshire-based Flyby Technology have also been used to fly live Covid-19 samples to laboratories from hospitals and testing sites in support of NHS Test and Trace – and it seems the NHS will be using drones far more in the future.
All the pilots on the Flyby course go through a month-long intensive training at Flyby’s specialist drone flying school in Leicestershire.
The pilots will be the best qualified in the world which means they will be able to fly drones anywhere. Technology is moving at such a pace they will even be able to fly drones based in other countries from here in the UK.
Drones allowed to fly beyond visual sight could weigh up to a third of a tonne and carry weights of up to 150kg (23.5 stones). This makes them ideal for day-to-day work including spraying agricultural crops and making deliveries or for humanitarian emergencies such as taking water, food and medical supplies into remote regions after natural disasters including earthquakes, floods and tsunamis.
At the moment, drones can only be flown within sight of the operator and no more than 400ft (120m) high.
Flyby Technology founder Jon Parker, a former RAF fighter pilot, said: “Yesterday, drones were all about taking photos and videos, today it’s about inspecting buildings, power lines and other infrastructure but tomorrow it will all be about operations beyond visual line of sight and we are now training these drone pilots of tomorrow.
“They will be the best pilots in the world using the best technology and the best innovation to take aviation to the next level. In short, the skills needed to fly manned aircraft are being taken into the drone world to the extent that when they graduate Flyby pilots will receive their ‘wings’ and wear a uniform.”
Drones can be a less expensive option than manned helicopters and aeroplanes and, of course, can fly into places manned aircraft simply couldn’t get. They can also save the need for people to be put at risk such as rescue teams searching alongside fast-flowing rivers or on dangerous mountain sides. The flexibility of small drones means they can get high quality, close-up images of everything from inspecting power lines (a task normally done by expensive-to-run helicopters), railways and gas pipelines to getting a bird’s-eye view of agricultural crops.
Drones and the high technology cameras and recording equipment on them means crucial, even potentially life-saving, information can now be gathered that has previously been too expensive, dangerous or simply impossible to get.
The drones are packed with cameras – including three for landing and a pilot’s eye view.
Civil Aviation Authority says BVLOS drones are a ‘game-changer’
The Civil Aviation Authority in the UK supports the industry in making unmanned aircraft flights beyond the visual line of sight of the operator something that happens every day.
David Tait, Acting Head of the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Innovation Team, said: “This would significantly change how unmanned aircraft are used in the UK. Normalising BVLOS will continue to push the UK forward as a world-leader in aviation innovation and technology.
“Enabling everyday drone flying beyond visual line of sight is a game-changer, providing the opportunity for unmanned vehicles to monitor critical infrastructure, make deliveries and support our daily lives in an efficient and environmentally friendly way.
“We are now working closely with some of the world’s leading innovators to make these amazing possibilities a reality.”
The CAA says that allowing BVLOS operations in the UK could bring huge benefits, including:
- Drone parcel delivery from a distribution centre to a customer.
- Long-distance aerial surveys of infrastructure such as power lines or highway construction.
- Surveillance at the scene of an accident or incident, operated from an external control centre.
- Street mapping a whole city with optical and acoustic sensors.
This is the ethos behind everything that Flyby Technology is doing – designing, building and operating drones that are unique for any company’s individual needs. They can then train that company’s staff to pilot them or provide them with highly skilled pilots who have been through Flyby’s BVLOS course.
Why the NHS wants to use more drones
It also looks like the NHS will be using drones far more in the future, a move that has been accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
A government spokesman said: “NHS England anticipates that the recovery phase of this pandemic can significantly benefit from drones delivering medical payloads including equipment, medications, blood packs and more.
“Therefore, investing in their solution will continue to provide the NHS with an enhanced logistics system even after the pandemic is behind us.”
Flyby Technology has been granted approval by the Civilian Aviation Authority to become an official Recognised Assessment Entity. This means they can provide a range of drone courses, including the General Visual Line of Sight Certificate and the A2 Certificate of Competency Drone Training course. These certificates allow pilots of drones weighing over 249g to operate in congested areas with different separation rules.