Syria Airlift Project: Drones to Save Lives


Every so often, you come across a genius stroke so genuinely inspiring and so brimming with the potential to make a difference in the lives of people that you can’t help but shout it from the rooftops. A project I’ve been watching develop a while now is starting to culminate, and it’s something I find worthy of attention and support.

Maj. Mark Jacobsen, an Arabic-speaking Air Force C-17 pilot, founded the Syria Airlift Project after doing research among Syrian refugees in eastern Turkey. Frustrated refugees asked why the US could not airdrop food or medical supplies to besieged populations inside Syria. The answer — that manned cargo planes are too vulnerable to ground fire without a massive air defense suppression campaign — left Mark dissatisfied. Surely, he thought, in the 21st century, there must be a way to get some aid through.

When he found there wasn’t a ready-made solution, he came up with his own: adapt the idea of inexpensive drone technology to the provision of humanitarian aid. If a cheaply-made drone could be outfitted to fly a modest distance and deliver 1kg of food or medical supplies, a scaled application of the idea could fundamentally alter the calculus of suffering for war-trapped noncombatants in Syria. Equipped with that idea and little else, Jacobsen recruited a team of like-minded volunteers and set out to make it real.  

The effort is showing movement, and the work ethic, ingenuity, and tenacity displayed by Jacobsen and his team in passionately pursuing their cause is truly uplifting.

Over the past year, this team of volunteers has developed a “conveyor belt” paradigm for swarming small packets of aid into hard-to-access areas using large numbers of small, fixed-wing drones. One launch crew could potentially deliver hundreds of pounds of aid per day. The team has demonstrated this capability during field exercises involving Iraqi and Syrian American volunteers in the United States.

Their progress was recently documented by BBC, and the video posted below is one of the best 6-minutes investments you’ll make.

Progress has been swift and consistent, but the group will need more resources to support a pilot project in Turkey this summer to get to the next level. If you find this effort as noble and important as I do, keep your eyes peeled for a crowdsourced funding prompt this coming Tuesday. You can sign up to help push that funding effort at the project’s Thunderclap site, where you’ll also find another great video and more information. 

Like Syria Airlift Project on Facebook to stay caught up.

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