HM Coastguard’s first operational drone flight will join helicopters, planes, boats and cliff-top rescue teams for the first time on rescue missions at sea and on land in North Wales this summer.
The drone, initially tested a year ago during the first easing of pandemic restrictions, will fly from HM Coastguard helicopter base in Caernarfon, and also participate in a series of major training exercises with 999 other teams.
HM Coastguard’s search and rescue helicopters and fixed-wing surveillance aircraft provide support in maritime, coastal and inland environments, including mountainous regions.
During an operational integration training phase, the drone – operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd – flew in formation alongside Caernarfon’s HM Coastguard S92 helicopter (also operated by Bristow) and aircraft from King Air surveillance from HM Coastguard, operated by 2Excel Aviation.
Remotely piloted aircraft are expected to play a key role when UKSAR2G, the second generation search and rescue service, is expected to begin operations in 2024.
Minister of Navy and Aviation, Robert Courts said: âEnsuring the safety of people at sea and around our coasts will always be a priority, which is why we continue to explore new ways to modernize search and rescue efforts.
“Drones have the potential to help our Coast Guard teams save even more lives and it is only right that we are working to advance these technologies here in the UK.”
Secretary of State for Wales, Simon Hart said: ‘We look forward to a busy summer in the beautiful surroundings of North Wales and HM Coastguard plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of locals and visitors to the area.
“It’s fantastic that this exciting new technology is first deployed in Wales, flying alongside rescue teams and adding another layer to HM Coastguard’s search and rescue capability.”
Her Majesty’s Director of Coast Guard, Claire Hughes said, âSummers on the coast are always busy and we will continue to use technology that could potentially save lives. When every minute saved can prove the difference between life and death, technology like this has a vital role to play in those times alongside our helicopters, Coast Guard rescue teams and our partners in the RNLI to lifeboats and independent hovercraft. “
Neil Ebberson, UK Search and Rescue Director in Bristow, said: âFlying the Schiebel S-100 remotely piloted system alongside our manned aircraft from Caernarfon and the 2Excel surveillance aircraft has been a landmark for the HM Coastguard air search and rescue service.
âAlthough we trained regularly with the 2Excel fixed-wing crews and our Caernarfon-based S92 crews, this was the first time that all three types of aircraft had operated and integrated into the same airspace.
âParticipating in large-scale training exercises and fully integrating with rescue missions alongside HM Coastguard aircraft, ships and manned vehicles will further prove the capability of the drone and extend the reach of air rescue service. This builds on the successful demonstration of operational readiness when we conducted surveillance missions for HM Coastguard to the beaches and mountains of Wales in the summer of 2020.
âOur close collaboration with CAA, Caernarfon Airport and the large North Wales stakeholder community has been essential in reaching this milestone. Our ability to successfully integrate technology into existing service respects our commitment to operational excellence.
Bristow undertook two years of rigorous testing and testing, before introducing the drone for use from the HM Coast Guard base in Caernarfon as a security surveillance and surveillance aircraft, allowing the crew manned helicopter to remain able to respond to rescue missions.
Andy Offer, co-founder and director of 2Excel Aviation, said: âAt 2Excel, we have a wealth of experience in rapidly transforming complex aeronautical concepts into advanced capabilities. We look forward to continuing to work alongside Bristow – in partnership with the MCA – to develop interoperability of platforms, partners and search and rescue people to improve service.
âWhile providing fixed-wing search and surveillance missions using our highly customized King Air 200 platforms, we have established a strong working relationship with HM Coastguard helicopters operated by Bristow crews across the United Kingdom. It was therefore a natural step for us to integrate a drone into the mix, which will only improve the rescue capabilities of the SAR service provided by the MCA. “