A quadcopter, a drone with four rotor blades, has made it just shy of the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.
The quadcopter was specially built by Cheetah Air to record the progress of a team that climbed the mountain from February 17 to 25 2015. The company’s chief technology officer, Edan Cain, assembled two drones on-site, having brought the components in his backpack.
The trekkers represented the Kilimanjaro Climb for Valour and was led by Eddie Frank, who has climbed Kili 51 times in the last 39 years and once worked closely with US special forces as a high altitude training consultant. The climbers included two active special forces soldiers and family members of two who died on the job.
The sponsored climb was for the benefit of Duskin & Stephens, a charity that assists the families of fallen special forces members. The charity is named after two special forces soldiers killed by small arms fire in Afghanistan in 2012: Chief Warrant Officer “Big Mike” Duskins, who died aged 42, and Sergeant First Class Riley Stephens, who perished at the age of 38.
The drone reached 19,000 feet, close to the summit – Kili is 19,341 feet. While it had been intended that it would reach the summit, this was not attempted because, per Cain, “the winds had really picked up.” His defence was that “This was truly the case of ‘discretion is the better part of valour.’”
Beyond supporting the climbers, Cheetah Air performed groundbreaking high altitude research amidst 30mph winds and a temperature of five degrees Fahrenheit. Cain expounded, “We went knowing that the drones would be taxed to their limit and beyond in this rugged environment.” He was pleased by the results: “To see it work, and work well, considering the highest we had tested it in California was 9,500 feet, was hugely exciting,” He informed the world that Cheetah would return with “an even more powerful craft and Mother Nature’s support.”
The company declared that lessons learned from this endeavour had been invaluable, bringing it closer to its objective of using quadcopters to send medicine to climbers in need and assist search-and-rescue operations. Other applications for drones include pipeline monitoring, precision agriculture and product delivery.