Making Aviation History – The First Quad-copter Drone to Cross the English Channel

Celebrating the sucess in Dover.  from the left Danie Juden, Craig Burn, Richard Gill, Mark Browett, Enrique Aguado, Ben Wales, Steve Carrington

Making Aviation History – The First Quad-copter Drone to Cross the English Channel

A UK Team of drone experts have successfully completed their bid to be the first people in history to fly a drone across the English Channel – a single flight of 35km!  This is also the longest single official flight of a quad-copter in the World!


Joining the ranks of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, John Jeffries, Louis Bleriot and Harriet Quimby the Team, led by Richard Gill, have set a famous aviation milestone and have demonstrated the future potential of commercial drone technology.


Drones receive a lot of bad press but this success shows what can be achieved and how the technology can be used in a safe and responsible manner.  Flying across the English Channel has a certain pedigree within aviation history, now drones are getting in on the party.

Richard Gill (35), Piloting Enduro 1 Across the English Channel

Richard Gill (35), Piloting Enduro 1 Across the English Channel


The flight took place on the morning of the 16th of February 2016, on an unusually sunny and calm morning Richard and his team set off for a beach near Wissant in Northern France.  After some trouble getting close to the beach he finally got the drone in the air and began the flight back to the 35 kilometer flight back to the UK.


Although scheduled to take about 80-90 minutes the journey wasn’t easy.  The English Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world and the drone and the boat had to dodge between two large vessels.  With such tight margins Richard couldn’t afford to make large deviations from the most direct route.


The flight was going well as he passed the point of no return, 17km, from here the distance to the UK was shorter than returning to the original launch position so there was no escape plan.  At 23km something strange happened.  The drone suddenly lurched to the left and Richard had to disable the GPS guidance and take manual control of the flight for the final 20 minutes.  Flying without GPS assistance was extremely challenging.


Given that Richard was operating on the very edge of what is practically possible for a quad-copter the weather conditions were critical.  Any type of adverse wind would have had a severe impact on the drone meaning it might not make the distance.  And given that he was flying over water there are no second chances or emergency landings!


By achieving this amazing feat the Team established a number of world firsts in a commercially relevant context.  Companies like Amazon with their Prime Air service and Google are already experimenting with long-range drones to deliver parcels.  By this success, Richard and his team have pushed the boundaries of what was previously thought possible on a commercially viable platform.


When asked why he was doing this Richard said:


“I wanted to do something to stand out and show what this technology is capable of, companies like Amazon, with their Prime Air service have seen the commercial potential of drones.  This attempt pushes the boundaries of what is technically possible.”

Richard Gill, landing the drone on Shakespeare Beach in Dover.

Richard Gill, landing the drone on Shakespeare Beach in Dover.


When asked about the records set he said:


“It is hard to say how many records we have made and broken today but I can say that, to my knowledge, I am the first person to fly a quad-copter drone across the English Channel.”


When asked why he was making the attempt he said:


“Small, unmanned aerial vehicles are the next horizon in aviation so I wanted to see if I could do something to push the technology in a meaningful way.  The UK leads the world in terms of legislation, I thought it would be good to see us lead the world in commercial UAV applications too.”


Simon Vaitevicius, the Birtish Model Flying Association Records Officer said:


“This record is so important in the context of future drone activity such as delivering parcels because it proves that drones can be used over a distance, reliably over time.”

The purpose of the flight was to demonstrate that commercial drone technology is becoming more capable. This flight challenges previous assumptions on the endurance and distances achievable by multi rotor drones.
To stay within current legislation the pilot had to remain within 500m of the drone at all times meaning they had to follow it in a boat.  But with GPS guidance and automated flight it is perfectly feasible that the drone could have made this flight independently (under BVLOS conditions).


The Enduro 1 drone was made using the very latest cutting edge technology.  A custom airframe was designed by UK based UAV manufacturer Vulcan UAV, efficient T-Motors and blades provided the lift, Optipower provided two huge 22 Amp hour batteries, Jeti provided the secure and robust control links and Nottingham Scientific Ltd provided the GPS tracking devices.  The drone also had GPS guidance assistance.


Full approval from both the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and French Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC) for the crossing was granted and the Team operated within the standard rules for commercial UAV operations in the UK.