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Drone trial delivers supplies to Ocracoke Island

North Carolina transportation officials say successful drone flights last week to Ocracoke have them hopeful that it may soon get easier to deliver vital supplies to the remote Outer Banks island amid bad weather.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s Division of Aviation and U.S.-based drone logistics company Volansi completed two successful trial flights of a delivery drone from a ferry dock in Hatteras to Ocracoke Island, the department said in a news release Friday.

“This is a tremendous first step in better connecting Ocracoke Island to potentially life-saving supplies and equipment,” Secretary of Transportation Eric Boyette said in a statement. “Today, Ocracoke Island is accessible only by plane or by boat. What we’re working on here is an entirely new, third method of serving the needs of Ocracoke’s people.”

The tests conducted Thursday involved an eight-mile round-trip flight averaging 18 minutes in flight time. The first delivered a small survival kit, space blankets and a chocolate muffin to Ocracoke, while the second delivered bottles of water, according to the news release.

“This was just a small trial, but we hope to continue scaling this up to larger payloads and longer flights,” said Ben Spain, the department’s unmanned aerial systems program manager. “Long-term, we could see deliveries coming to Ocracoke all the way from the mainland.”

The next test, at a time to be determined, will involve a longer flight, the department said.

Ocracoke suffered tremendous damage when Hurricane Dorian struck in September 2019, launching a 7-foot (2-meter) storm surge over parts of the island’s village, which measures about a square mile. Hundreds of Ocracoke’s year-round residents were forced out of their homes, and dozens of structures had to be demolished.

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