With today's topflight recreational quadcopters boasting maximum flight times of around 25 minutes, a 72-minute voyage across the English channel may seem beyond the technology's capabilities. But UK commercial drone operator Ocuair has defied the odds, traversing the waterway with a custom-built quadcopter in a first for unmanned aerial vehicles.
As wide as 240 km (150 mi) in some parts and as narrow as 32 km (20 mi) in others, the English Channel has proven a popular testbed for burgeoning vehicle technologies. From the first paddle steamer to make the trip early in the 19th century to the first airplane crossing almost 100 years later, innovative engineers have long been drawn to the seaway in an effort to demonstrate the real-world feasibility of their handiwork.
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In making the first drone flight across the English Channel, the Ocuair team had a customized quadcopter, dubbed Enduro, take off from a beach in Northern France. Trailing by boat to stay within 500 m (1,640 ft) of the drone, Ocuair's Operations Director Richard Gill manually piloted the aircraft across its 35 km (21.7 m) journey to land on Shakespeare Beach in Dover, South East England, 72 minutes later.
In addition to acquiring its own little slice of history, the Ocuair team was aiming to push the boundaries of what is possible when it comes to long distance drone flight. Advances in this area could have wide-ranging impacts on commercial applications of the technology, with companies like Amazon and Google working to establish delivery drone services.
You can see a time-lapse of Ocuair's crossing in the video below.