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The First Atlantic Crossing by Robotic Aircraft – August 20/21, 1998

Twenty-five years ago, last Saturday!

I wrote a small article highlighting this achievement several years ago. During a university engineering lecture, a student asked for my prediction of when we would see a transatlantic crossing using a small commercial drone. With some engineering ability, a GPS receiver, and a Ford Taurus rental car, the mighty Laima became the smallest aircraft to fly across the Atlantic in the late 90s.

Launched from a cradle on the roof of a rental car, Laima flew 2000 plus miles from Newfoundland to Scotland for 26 hours 45 minutes, all using only a gallon and a half of gas.

More recently, I decided to revisit the achievement because we, as an Uncrewed community, are coming up on the twenty-fifth anniversary or the Silver Jubilee here on August 20, 2023.

After being interviewed by a “reporter,” aka a Ukrainian consultant, quizzing me about a few Unmanned Aircraft Systems, I doubled down on reviving and rounding the story out. Questions about the Insitu ScanEagle, Textron (AAI) Aerosonde, and the Aerovel Flexrotor.

I informed the “reporter” that there was a common thread between these companies and systems; it’s Dr. Tad McGeer. Those aircraft represent a legacy of unmanned aircraft systems engineering work spanning forty years. Tad was the lead scientist at Arora Flight Sciences way back in 1990.

After returning to aeronautics after a detour in bipedal robotics. Passive Dynamic Bipedal

I assume that endeavor was too pedestrian (insert rimshot here) for Tad as he reembraced unmanned aircraft and has not looked back. Sure, the effort took several attempts, but they did it.

This trans-Atlantic achievement ran parallel to founding the Insitu Group in the Silicon Valley
Robin Way garage circa 1992 and earning his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Dr. Tad McGeer’s full write-up about the crossing is below

Dr. McGeer was awarded the sUAS News 2016 Industry Leadership award for his contributions to the unmanned systems technology and community. *Any similarities between the Aerovel Flexrotor and the sUAS News logo are coincidental. ;-)

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