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Wick John O' Groats airport stages successful test flight of the largest unmanned air vehicle in Europe

By Gordon Calder

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A SUCCESSFUL test flight of the largest unmanned air vehicle (UAV) in Europe has taken place at Wick John O' Groats airport.

The exercise, which was carried out earlier this month, aims to deliver the blueprint for net zero regional aviation across the UK. The project involves Orkney-based, Sustainable Aviation Test Environment (SATE), along with its lead partner Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) and ARC Aerosystems.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week representatives of the various groups, including local school and college pupils and students, gathered at the Caithness airport to see the ARC C-600 autonomous aircraft, hear about the tethered trials and watch a video of the test.

The C-600, designed and built by ARC Aerosystems is the largest vertical take off and landing UAV in Europe, has a wingspan of over eight metres, 100kilogrammes payload capacity and the ability to travel up to 400 kilometres.

The aircraft is fitted with a cutting-edge fixed-wing electric vertical take-off and landing design which eliminates the need for runways, making it perfectly suited to support the needs of rural communities in operations, including mail deliveries, fisheries, and windfarms.

The drone at Wick John O' Groats airport this week. Photo: Angus Mackay
The drone at Wick John O' Groats airport this week. Photo: Angus Mackay

Improving rural connections is one SATE’s key missions. The project aims to test cutting edge developments such as the C-600.

Dougie Cook, HIAL North Airports General Manager, said: "The team were delighted to be able to host this testing at Wick John O’Groats Airport. Each successful test of emerging UAV technology brings us one step closer to using these sustainable solutions. HIAL is committed to achieving our net zero ambitions and also to ensuring future connectivity for our regional airports."

Dr Seyed Mohseni, chief execuitve and founder of ARC Aerosystems, is looking forward to going "beyond the visual ‘line of sight test’ to get one step closer to commercialisation."

Welcoming the successful test, SATE manager Jayne Golding said: "ARC Aerosystems conducted tethered flight trials earlier this month and we are delighted to have them here to welcome key stakeholders, including some local high school pupils and college students, who are interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathmatics).

She added: "One of our ambitions is that successful trials mean our partners can use the trial data to help showcase aircrafts and technology, allowing them to develop a case for commercial use. HIAL’s remote airports are ideal for testing such flights and showing how rural connectivity is vital."

SATE is the UK's first low carbon test location at an operational airport. It is based at Kirkwall Airport in Orkney and aims to showcase emerging technologies and highlight the environmental, social and economic contribution sustainable aviation can make.

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