For Flying Rotarians – Drones mean saving lives!

What do you imagine when you think of drones?  Recreational toys?  Flying taxis?  A threat to the future of general aviation?  A force for good or bad?  Whatever your views, there are Flying Rotarians across Europe who see them as the way to save lives and are making it happen.

WingBeat Ambulance Drone – Italy

Our first experience was at the Italian Section meeting in Lugo di Romagna, near Bologna, in June 2018.  The Italian Flying Rotarians had supported members of the nearby Rotaract Club which had been taking part in the “WingBeat” project organised by Rotaract Clubs in Rotary District 2120.

WingBeat was a collaboration between Rotaract, the Italian Red Cross and the 118 emergency services. They had purchased an “ambulance drone” carrying a defibrillator.  The open countryside of north-east Italy around Lugo is heavily dependent on agriculture and manual labour. Compact and simple to operate, in the event of a heart attack in the fields, the drone can be remotely controlled by an operator to fly the defibrillator to the place of the incident, much faster than other forms of rescue can get there. 

In that sort of situation, a few minutes saved in getting help can mean the difference between life or death.  When the drone arrives on the scene, it can send audio / video streams to the 118 operations center, where a health worker can remotely view the situation and provide instructions to non-medical personnel present on the rescue site.


More recently, in the last couple of months, members of the Ukraine Squadron of the Flying Rotarians have successfully completed their own life-saving drone project, helping to equip two drones to be used for mine-clearance work.

Estimates suggest that 160,000 square kilometers of land may be “contaminated” by land mines and other unexploded ordnance — an area roughly the size of Virginia, Maryland and Connecticut combined. The area includes a large chunk of Ukraine’s farmland – and so its farmers working on the land to feed the world who are often the innocent victims of hidden explosives. Surveying the ground manually is a slow and dangerous process. But drones, equipped with magnetometers can cover the ground at low altitude far faster, plotting the location of hidden dangers precisely, and with far less risk to mine clearance personnel.

IFFR Ukraine Squadron Chair Ihor Zembovych, working with IFFR members Olha Paliychuk and Nazar Drala and Rotary District 2232 Peacebuilding Committee Chair Dirk Lustig, spent several months raising awareness of the project, establishing where the specialist magnetometers which are fitted to the drones and used to survey the ground could be sourced from and raising the necessary funding. Their efforts included visiting Riga, Latvia, where they met with IFFR Scandinavia member Janis Andersons and his Rotary Club.

Finally, with funding for the magnetometers provided by Rotarians in District 1145 in the United Kingdom, Ihor could arrange for them to be collected in the Ukraine and fitted to the drones in early December. By now the drones will be helping save lives and make the land safe for farming once again.

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