The UK Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship HMS Protector has launched small unmanned aircraft to help navigate through the frozen seas of the Antarctic.
The use of a quadcopter and a 3D-printed aircraft marks the first time that the Royal Navy has deployed unmanned aerial vehicles in the Antarctic.
The small and less hi-tech aircraft are capable of generating high-quality information for the icebreaker vessel in real-time.
HMS Protector commanding officer captain Rory Bryan said: "This trial of these low-cost but highly versatile aircraft has been an important first step in establishing the utility of unmanned aerial vehicles in this region."
Developed at Southampton University, the Laser-Sintered Aircraft (SULSA) is said to be the world’s first printed aircraft.
Made of nylon, the aircraft is printed in four major parts, and assembled without the use of any tools.
Weighing 3kg and costing £7,000, the aircraft can be remotely controlled from a laptop on-board, and can fly at a speed of approximately 60mph.
Prior to being launched from the icebreaker, the aircraft was tested off the Dorset coast with River-class offshore patrol vessel HMS Mersey last year.
Royal Navy Staff Maritime Capability assistant chief commodore James Morley said: "The whole team has overcome significant hurdles to demonstrate the enormous utility of these aircraft for affordable and persistent surveillance and reconnaissance from ships, even in the environmentally challenging environment of the Antarctic.
"Although this was a relatively short duration trial to measure the relative merits of fixed and rotary wing embarked systems, we are continuing to review our options for acquisition of maritime unmanned aerial vehicles in the future."
Image: A small unmanned aircraft launched from HMS Protector. Photo: courtesy of Royal Navy.