Projects that use sensor-packed drones and sustainable electric aviation to carry out remote inspections, fight fires, protect the environment, and battle the coronavirus are among the first to receive a share of £33.5 million in government funding.

That £33.5 million round is the first tranche of the £125 million Future Flight Challenge, which aims to foster the development of new aviation technologies via the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) backed programme, in partnership with the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has announced the first 20 winning projects under the Future Flight Challenge, with a further 28 still to be announced.

These first 20 projects will receive a total of £7.35 million from the government. Of these, nine are focused on battling the coronavirus, including the development of unmanned drones to deliver medication.

£3.5 million has been set aside specifically to develop airborne technologies to help fight the pandemic. Electric and hydrogen fuel cell powered aircraft are also among the successful proposals.

Winning projects announced this week include:

  • Drone Defence Services and the University of Nottingham, which are developing sensor technologies to track aircraft and provide increased airspace awareness, helping unmanned platforms to share the sky safely with other aircraft.
  • Wales-based Gold Dragon is also developing sensor technologies for unmanned drones, prioritising health and emergency services.
  • Cardiff-based Dock-to-Dock, which aims to deliver goods using hydrogen-powered electric aircraft.
  • London-based NAPKIN, which is working towards enabling low- and zero-carbon short-haul flights.
  • Norfolk-based The Light Aircraft Company, which plans to integrate electric propulsion into existing aircraft.
  • Essex-based APIAN, which is developing drones to deliver medical tests between NHS hospitals and labs in response to the pandemic.
  • London-based MediDrone is also creating small shuttle drones to deliver packages to medical facilities.
  • South-west based Windracers Distributed Avionics, which is exploring the use of collaborative robot swarms to provide humanitarian aid and fight fires.
  • Droneprep, Consortiq, and Windracers – based in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly – plan to use unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver critical PPE and Covid-19 testing kits to rural communities.
  • Hertford-based BVLOS Drone Comms for COVID-19 (Hertford). This project will help improve contact between drones and control rooms when flying beyond the operator’s line of sight.
  • A Chichester-based project for remote industrial inspection by drone.