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The University of Southampton

Drones for Good

SPOTTER remotely piloted aircraft developed at the University of Southampton, seen here with one of the University’s field operations support vehicles.



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The challenge

The University of the Southampton is one of the UK’s largest operator of drones, with nearly 100 platforms. It has designed, built and flown remotely piloted aircraft all over the globe, including Antarctica, the Amazon, the Stratosphere and over active volcanoes in Guatemala. The twin-engine Windracers ULTRA (seen in the image wearing a Royal Mail livery), is used in a Royal Mail test flight campaign, delivering mail between Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – it is one of the latest aircraft designed and built by engineers at the University.

What we do

The University of Southampton leads the £10m CASCADE EPSRC programme grant consortium which includes the universities of Bristol, Cranfield, Imperial and Manchester, and participated in the first UK demonstration of unmanned traffic management (operation Zenith) in 2018. Southampton was the first university to get an exemption to fly a large (>20kg) drone from the Civil Aviation Authority and was one of the first universities to fly BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight). Professor Jim Scanlan, who leads the University’s drone activities, has given parliamentary evidence to the influential Science and Technology and Defence committees helping to shape the future of civilian drone use in the UK.

Our impact

In April 2020, the Windracers ULTRA aircraft, developed as part of one the Phase 1 CASCADE case studies, flew NHS supplies from the UK mainland to the Isle of Wight during the Covid-19 pandemic. This was a pioneering flight in many respects. It is the heaviest civilian unmanned aircraft to have flown in Europe. It is one of the longest and most complex BVLOS operations to have taken place, operating in live manned airspace with Search And Rescue (SAR) helicopter operations, military, commercial and private aircraft flights all taking place concurrently. The aircraft was flown using the ‘masterless’ flight control system which has been patented and commercialised via a spin-out company called Distributed Avionics.

Related Staff Member

Windracers ULTRA unmanned aircraft
Windracers ULTRA unmanned aircraft
Members of the Transportation Research Group.
Members of the Transportation Research Group.
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