FAQ - Medical Drone Transport


What are the advantages of a drone?

Speed is of primary importance for quality healthcare. Medical samples must therefore be able to be tested quickly and urgent medicines must reach the patient quickly.

In cases where there is no lab or pharmacy on the medical campus where the patient is being examined and/or treated, transport is necessary. Because transport by road is slowly becoming clogged up, fast transport with a drone through the air is a better alternative.

Moreover, thanks to the medical drone, medical transport does not require people to go from medical campus A to medical campus B, thus reducing the risk of spreading viruses.


What types of drones are used?

Depending on the application and the project, Helicus uses different types of drones. These are:

  • Drones with 8 rotors
  • Drones that take off vertically and fly on horizontally like a plane (VTOL)
  • Passenger drones

These drones have the common characteristic that they are built with safety as the first priority and to transport medical equipment.


How can I recognise the medical drone?

Helicus ensures that the medical character of the medical drones is clearly recognisable. For this purpose, the drones are given the typical yellow ambulance colour and markings.


Does the drone make noise?

The electric motors of the drone generate a measured sound pressure level of 65 dB at 7 metres. At the cruising altitude of 90m this is only 43dB. This noise disappears into the background noise of a city.

The medical transport flights always depart and land from the roof of a hospital, which limits the noise for the surrounding area when landing and taking off.


Does the drone fly over natural reserves?

In cruising flight, the medical drones fly at a height of 120 m above the ground. Moreover, the medical drone does not hover overhead natural reserves, en-route to its destination. Every effort is made not to disturb the habitat of animals in natural reserves.

Why is a drone flying above my city?

There is a great demand from the medical world to make medical transport faster, more efficient, and safer. From that point of view, medical institutions ask to develop transport by drone. Moreover, medical transport by drone relieves the already very busy traffic on the ground by moving the transport from the road to the air.


Will the drone always follow the same flight path?

During an initial phase, the routes of the drones are determined in advance on the basis of a number of parameters. The first drone flights often follow the same route. As soon as there are more flights, a spread of the flight routes can be built in.

Who is involved in these drone flights?

A number of parties are involved in carrying out medical drone flights. First and foremost, the hospitals for which medical transport by drone is being tested. Then there is Helicus, the developer of medical drone transport, software developer NSX and various drone manufacturers. Air traffic control and city and safety services are also involved in this initiative.

What is the drone transporting?

The medical payload on the Helicus Medical drone flights, includes medical samples (blood, urine, biopsies), blood products and medicines. The type of cargo can vary depending on the demand from the medical world. During the test phase there will sometimes be no medical cargo on board the drone.

How high does the drone fly?

The drone takes off and lands from the roofs of the hospitals involved. During the cruising flight the drone typically flies at an altitude of 120 metres from the ground. Depending on the environment, this altitude may vary during the flight.

How fast does the drone fly?

During cruising flight, the drone flies at a ground speed of approximately 60km/h. This speed can vary depending on the direction and speed of the wind.

Why are drone flights sometimes cancelled?
ne European drone legislation requires that all risks be adequately contained. Transport by drone is a very new thing, especially in densely populated areas. Helicus is currently testing and demonstrating the possibilities of this new mode of transport. Helicus and the drone manufacturers must be able to demonstrate that this new type of transport is sufficiently secure. 
One of the risk reduction measures during these tests and demos is to only fly during nice and calm weather. This means that the weather must not only be dry, but also that there must be limited wind. Other safety measures may also require a flight to be cancelled. Step by step these restrictions will be adapted until it will be possible to fly day and night and in almost all weather conditions. To reach that goal, a lot of test and demonstration flights will have to be carried out. Until then, flights will be cancelled even though the weather looks good.


How safe is this drone?

The drones for medical transport weigh a maximum of 25 kg, including the load. Depending on the type of aircraft, different safety features are built in. For example, an octocopter drone with 8 motors, powered by 2 batteries connected in parallel. The octocopter drone is also equipped with a parachute that ensures a soft landing in case of emergency. Helicus also has other types of drones such as VTOL (vertical take-off and landing).

The drones and the way they are used by Helicus in populated areas are approved by the aviation authorities. Although the flight is automatic, professional pilots monitor the whole flight process from a distance and can take over the control of the aircraft if necessary.

Very exceptionally, a heavier passenger drone is also used. This aircraft has a maximum take-off weight (MTOM) of 600kg. This aircraft undergoes an inspection similar to that of manned aircraft or helicopters. For flights with this aircraft, additional and strict arrangements are made with the authorities so that the flight can proceed safely.


What if the drone crashes?

The probability of the drone crashing is very small. The drone is built in such a way that it remains controllable despite engine problems and when a battery fails. The pilot monitors the drone and will intervene if the flight does not proceed as it should. The trajectories of the medical drone transport are chosen in such a way that places where people may be present (busy streets, schools, …) are avoided as much as possible. Thanks to the alternative landing places along the way, the drone can always divert in case of problems to land quickly and safely if necessary. Moreover, the aircraft are equipped with techniques, such as a parachute or an e-parachute, that ensure that the drone descends in a controlled manner even when problems arise.


How safe is the load?

On flights involving the transport of medical samples, we provide triple leakproof packaging, in accordance with the applicable guidelines for the transport of medical equipment. The parachute or e-parachute that the drones are equipped with must ensure that the drone comes down softly in an emergency so that it does not have to crash. The flight is always remotely monitored and traced. If the drone must land unexpectedly en-route between two hospitals, members of the crew will come to the scene and notify the emergency services if necessary.


What about fire or danger of explosion?

A crash could possibly cause a fire of the LiPo (Lithium Polymer) batteries in the drone. The material from which the drone is made is of the highest quality. Even in the event of a crash, there is therefore little chance of a fire developing. The risk of a crash is reduced in several ways. Pilots can intervene in case of an emergency. The drones are equipped with a parachute or an e-parachute that ensures a soft landing in case of emergency. Moreover, the drones are permanently monitored from the control centre. If an unexpected landing occurs, members of the drone crew immediately go to where the drone has landed and, if necessary, notify the emergency services.


Who controls this drone?

During automatic flight, the drone is permanently monitored by one or more licensed pilots who can intervene should something unexpected occur.

What is the risk of this drone colliding with an aircraft?

Medical drone flights are organised in close cooperation with the aviation authorities and air traffic control. When these flights take place in controlled airspace, the drone pilot requests permission to take off from air traffic control before each flight. In this way, medical drone flights are separated from other aircraft. Moreover, the drone flies up to a  eight of 120m while manned aviation over rural areas is not allowed to fly lower than 150m and not even lower than 300m above agglomerations. So, there is an additional separation in space. If necessary, even special traffic messages (NOTAM: NOTification to AirMen) will be made for pilots of manned aircraft to give them all information about place and time of the drone flights. In some cases, even parts of the airspace will be temporarily closed for safety reasons.


What happens if this drone is hacked?

The control of the medical transport drone is secured in various ways. Unfortunately, for security reasons, we are unable to communicate the details of these measures.


What happens if the battery is low?

The medical flights leave with a full battery. The duration of the medical transport flights falls well within the autonomy of the battery.

Moreover, the status of the battery is permanently monitored by the pilot. If the battery charge drops below a predetermined percentage/voltage along the way, the pilot will abort the flight and let the drone land in a controlled manner. In case of a sudden loss of battery power, the parachute is deployed automatically so that the drone gently descends.


What happens if one engine or propeller fails?

The drone can even continue to fly with one failed engine or propeller. Nevertheless, at that moment the pilot will abort the flight and land the aircraft safely and in a controlled manner.

If more than one engine fails, the parachute will deploy, and the drone will land safely on the ground.


Is the drone still controllable once the parachute is deployed?

When the parachute is open, the drone will come down gently. The pilot will not be able to intervene from that moment on. If this scenario occurs, a crew member will immediately go to where the drone has landed and if necessary, notify the emergency services.


What happens when the drone deviates from its route?

If the drone deviates from its route, the pilot will intervene remotely.


 What happens if an accident does occur?

Helicus has developed an emergency response plan that has been discussed and coordinated with the emergency services of the overflown areas.

If, exceptionally, an accident does occur, Helicus, with the help of the emergency services, can limit the consequences of the accident as much and as quickly as possible.


What happens to the camera images taken with the drone?

Some of the drones have one or more cameras on board. These cameras are used to guarantee the flight safety, to evaluate the course of the flights afterwards and to process the images in communication with the outside world. The height of 120m at which the drone flies ensures that persons on the ground cannot be recognized. What remains are images that can be compared to satellite images or images taken from an aircraft.


If images are used for communication purposes, it will also be checked whether people can still be identified. Persons who have not given permission to be identified will be made unrecognizable.

The images used for flight evaluation will be kept for a maximum of 30 days. If the images are necessary to investigate a flight incident, the images will be stored according to the instructions of the authorities concerned.