HM Coastguard’s first operational drone flight is joining manned helicopters, planes, boats and cliff rescue teams on lifesaving missions.

HM Coastguard’s drone, helicopter and aeroplane assets undertaking their first formation flight in Wales (Credit: Ian Black, HM Coastguard, Bristow Helicopters, 2Excel Aviation)

The drone, initially trialled a year ago during the first easing of pandemic restrictions, will fly from the HM Coastguard helicopter base at Caernarfon, North Wales and will also participate in a series of major training exercises with other 999 teams.

HM Coastguard’s search and rescue helicopters and fixed-wing surveillance aircraft provide support in maritime, coastal and inland environments, including mountainous regions.

During a phase of operational integration training, the drone - operated by Bristow Helicopters Ltd - flew in formation alongside both the HM Coastguard S92 helicopter from Caernarfon (also operated by Bristow), and HM Coastguard’s King Air surveillance aircraft, operated by 2Excel Aviation.

Remotely piloted aircraft are expected to play a key role when UKSAR2G, the second-generation of search and rescue service, is due to begin operations in 2024.

Maritime and Aviation Minister, Robert Courts said: “Keeping people safe on the sea and around our coast will always be a priority, which is why we continue to explore new and cutting-edge ways to modernise search and rescue efforts.

“Drones have the potential to help our coastguard teams save even more lives and it is right we are working to advance these technologies here in the UK.”

Director of Her Majesty’s Coastguard, Claire Hughes said: “Summers on the coast are always busy and we will continue to use technology which could potentially save lives. When every minute saved can prove the difference between life and death, technology like this has a vital role to play in those moments alongside our helicopters, coastguard rescue teams and our partners from the RNLI to independent lifeboats and hovercraft.”

By Jake Frith