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Drones deliver medical supplies to southwest Va. health clinics

Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands inspect a Flirtey hexacopter before its flight. (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ABINGDON (WSLS 10) - Supplies were delivered to a health clinic in Wise Friday, but the method of transport was a new experience for many involved.

Drones delivered the supplies as part of a research project led by Virginia Tech and the Mid-Atlantic Aviation Partnership. Researchers were investigating the aircraft for the delivery of pharmaceuticals and other medical supplies in rural areas, where transportation issues can prevent proper care.

More than a dozen partners - from an unmanned system startup from Australian to NASA's Langley Research Center - teamed up to execute the drone deliveries.

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands, local officials, and health care providers were there during the testing. McAuliffe called the project "historic" and said unmanned aircraft have great potential in providing essential services to remote locations.

President Sands noted the research was about making the technology safe and increasing economic opportunities.

The aircraft ranged from a small hexacopter weighing less than 10 pounds to NASA's SR-22, a remotely operated aircraft with a pilot on board. Only one aircraft flew at a time in the designated airspace. In all, the flights covered more than 40 miles.

Larger aircraft transported quantities of supplies to Lonesome Pine Airport in Wise. Supplies were then transferred to smaller aircraft, which made several runs between the airport and the final destination, a clinic operated by the Health Wagon, a health care outreach organization, and Remote Area Medical, an international nonprofit humanitarian group.

Over several hours, 24 packages of medication were transported to the clinics, which provide free medical, dental, and vision services to more than 1,500 patients every year.

Other partners for the event include the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, Rx Partnership, SEESPAN Aerial Interactive Media, and Wise County Economic Development.