With a loud whir and a whoosh, a fixed-wing drone slingshots out of a medical warehouse, zips through hazy skies at 80 mph, pops open a belly hatch and drops a box of medical supplies. Slowed by a little parachute, the box drifts downward and lands with a plop, less than 8 minutes after launch.
For North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Basil Yap, it is a eureka moment.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the deadly consequences of fractured medical supply chains. Drones, said Yap, may be part of the solution. Proponents say they eliminate the need for delivery trucks and avoid human contact.
For more than a year, North Carolina — where modern aviation was born, at Kitty Hawk — has been the site of tests of drone deliveries, in coordination with the Federal Aviation Administration.
The FAA usually requires that drones operate within sight of their operators, which limits the distance they can fly; for these flights, an exception has been made.