The Pacific Drone Challenge | Can a Drone Fly Across the Pacific?


Will 2018 be the year that an unmanned drone flies all the way across the Pacific Ocean? That’s the question the Pacific Drone Challenge seeks to answer. The new competition challenges pilots and scientists around the world to fly a UAV from Japan to the United States - the first of its kind. The requirements are simple: fly from Japan to the Silicon Valley in California on a nonstop, unfueled, and unmanned drone mission.

The contest is open to participants around the world. There is no deadline; the winner will be the first team to successfully take off from Japan and land safely in Sunnyvale, California.

No Fortune, But the Potential of Fame

The Pacific Drone Challenge seems to post a “what if” question more than a formal competition at this time. The 4,500 distance extends well beyond the reach of current non-military drones, and the competition (as of yet) has no prize. While the Google Lunar X competition encouraging contenders to fly to the moon may seem more difficult a feat, it’s also backed by a $25 million grand prize and a $5 million prize for second place, as well other million-dollar prizes. So far the Pacific Drone Challenge is exclusively sponsored by competing teams, including Japanese tech company iRobotics and American aircraft company Sabrewing.

The Pacific Drone Challenge’s website states that the teams and their sponsors are entering the event for historical reasons, not the promise of fortune, stating, “Just as Charles Lindbergh's flew from New York to Paris in 1927 to demonstrate airplanes could fly nonstop across the Atlantic, the Pacific Drone Challenge will demonstrate the capabilities of unmanned aircraft to fly in similar circumstances [including] weather [and] distance.”

Technological Limitations

Unlike Lindbergh, however, flying drones across an ocean presents its own unique challenges. There will be no pilot on board, and the flight is expected to take a non-military drone between 45 and 50 hours. The typical hobby drone has a battery that lasts just under half an hour, and the challenge calls for all flights to be “unrefueled and nonstop.”

Endless Possible Applications

Being able to fly a non-military drone 4,500 miles has its benefits if a contender successfully completes the mission. At a fraction of the size and weight of other aircrafts, drones are significantly cheaper to fly long distances.

In the word of Vonnegut, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.” The competition opens a world of possibilities for tech in 2018, and we can’t wait to see what’s coming!

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