Unmanned aid for humans

How the Unmanned Cargo Aircraft disclose their 'humanitarian' potential in the wildest and most remote places on earth.

Jan 2018

In the evolution of transport systems, Unmanned Cargo Aircraft certainly represent the future of freight transport, as discussed in the  Unmanned Cargo Conference hosted by Avio Aero last month of November 2017. If a study carried out by the Swiss bank UBS shows that only 17% of people would trust to travel with an unmanned aircraft, for the transport of goods this type of aircraft certainly offers unique opportunities. Like being able to land in places where there are no airports or difficult places to reach even by land transport.

It is exactly in this segment that operates Wings for Aid, the Dutch company member of PUCA (Platform for Unmanned Cargo Aircraft)  that develops unmanned cargo aircraft to bring humanitarian aid to remote areas of the world, wreaked by wars, earthquakes or other catastrophes. “Traditional means of transport in the humanitarian aid chain are often inadequate when it comes to the last part of the route. Wings For Aid wants to bridge that ‘last mile’ by the use of an innovative unmanned cargo aircraft” explains Barry Koperberg, founder of Wings For Aid. “Moving aid supplies from where they can be flown in to the actual disaster site is a real challenge. We know from past experience that it often involves the final 50 to 250 kilometers. We also know that a transport weight of half a kilo is already enough to meet each victim’s basic daily needs after a disaster. But then quick and steady supply needs to be ensured until larger equipment can be used again. This system can be used for disaster relief, but also for the scheduled delivery of medicines in remote areas. Thus, we give ‘wings’ to aid and get it to people in need”.

When did you start with Wings for Aid, what was it in the beginning and how many people employeed?

“Wings for Aid started as an idea late back in 2012, when hunger struck Somalia and humanitarian organizations could not get the aid into the country. They asked for a new kind of distribution system, for wide-spread delivery to people in need. We started to think about the use of cargo UAV’s for this and I formed a coalition to get the idea off the ground. Currently, it is a network where 12 partners join forces.”

Which are the geographical areas or countries where Wings for aid is active?

“There is strong demand from the Caribbean, due to hurricanes and earthquakes. Remote areas in Africa are the next big application, where Wings for Aid can do scheduled delivery of weekly quantities of medicines to health clinics in villages. We expect to start operations in 2019, awaiting approval from civil aviation authorities.”

What’s the “last mile”, what does the last part of the path consist of?

“The ‘last mile’ is a metaphor for the most difficult part of any delivery: the final part. Humanitarian organizations such as the Red Cross and World Food Program and hindered by damaged infrastructure (roads, bridges) and dangers (conflict zones). Airlift has always been a ‘last resort’ to bridge this last mile. With the use of cargo UAV’s, the price of delivery goes down. This is especially true when the delivery points are wide-spread and many small (20-100kg) deliveries need to be made at once.”

Imagine a future unmanned aircraft: which preferred features should the Wings for Aid one have?

The ultimate Wings for Aid freighter is fully automated, has sense-and-avoid systems on board and is fully appreciated and integrated in next-gen ATM. Also, it has VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing, ed.) capability and is mass-produced. The powertrain is conventional or electric, maybe with H2/fuel cell technology. It is safe, good looking and actually your flying friend, that brings you the stuff you need. Always and everywhere.”

Do you remember any special missions by Wings for Aid or a unique experience?

“Although we are not fully operational yet, I would like to share a drop test of our cargo box. We tested the box in Munich, where we participated in an innovation boot camp of the World Food Program. It was amazing to see that our vision and mission become alive when we threw the cargo box off the balcony. And also, very nice that it performed well.”


For more information: Barry Koperberg, Founder and General Manager Wings for Aid