Food Delivery to Third World Areas

Millions of people in and near Somalia are currently starving to death. Hundreds of millions of people in other areas are also starving. The giant NGOs insist on receiving billions of dollars BEFORE they consider doing anything, and then they try to send conventional trucks to deliver food supplies. Those trucks are clearly marked, such that anyone with a gun can identify them to stop the trucks and steal the food, to then sell. The trucks also must travel along roads which are not paved and which are rare enough that their travel path is easily known ahead of time, to set up roadblocks to also steal the food.

It seems to me that if just a total investment of around $12,000 is provided, MORE food can be delivered than the giant NGOs manage to accomplish.

In August 2011, it has been announced that fully HALF of all the food that the NGOs have tried to deliver in Somalia has been stolen and the clearly marked bags are openly for sale by the criminals in markets.

I believe I have an obvious and inexpensive solution for this situation. Rather than needing to give billions of dollars to NGOs to encourage them to load trucks and send them into dangerous areas, my concept is ABSOLUTELY SAFE for all workers and is also less than 1/1000 the cost of current methods being tried.

It involves a dirt-cheap, blue-collar version of the US Military's UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) or drones which have been so impressive. But this only needs a USED Cessna aircraft and STANDARD Radio Control electronics and a GPS device and a special altimeter. Period!

A small group of people in ANY town in the US or Europe could get this set up in a few days! They basically only need an OLD small aircraft, such as a Cessna, Beech or similar, which are commonly sold for around $10,000 in flying condition; and a few hundred dollars of hobbyist Radio Control airplane controls.

An old general aviation airplane is now being renovated near London, England, toward being able to make such remotely flown food and water flights for a country to still be defined.











In principle, people with the skills to fly model airplanes can install those same radio receivers, relays and data transmitters in the full-sized airplane. A few creative modifications need to be added to actuate the steering and engine controls of an actual airplane, but that is simple stuff. A few additional electronic devices need to be added, specifically an altimeter which has telemetry to send the aircraft's altitude to the controller, and a GPS with telemetry so that the controller also constantly knows where the airplane is.

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Since model aircraft are generally flown within half a mile of the R/C transmitter, and this aircraft would need to go hundreds of miles to accomplish the goal, signal boosters or stronger transmitters would also be needed, but this is also easily within the abilities of Radio Control users.

In fact, these modifications, and the CHALLENGE for model aircraft hobbyists to get the chance to fly an ACTUAL AIRPLANE, should get a lot of volunteers!

THAT is virtually all that is needed! IT COULD BE DONE WITHIN A WEEK, and over-flights over Somalia to drop food and water packets could begin arriving at the most remote villages in Somalia and elsewhere.

Some of the unused channels of the R/C equipment could SEQUENTIALLY RELEASE ONE (of 20, ten under each wing) solenoids, which would then release and tear a standard garbage bag filled with 100 pounds of food packets and water bottles.

The airplane would therefore take off with the twenty garbage bags hanging from under the wings (or along the fuselage).

The operation of the system would be as follows:

The aircraft would be based at a SAFE airport, possibly in Kenya for the current need. Volunteers would load each of 20 garbage bags with equal amounts of around 100 pounds of food packets (MREs or equivalent) and water bottles, and then hang each bag under the wings, hanging on one of the solenoid release cable hooks.

NO PILOT would be aboard, and the airplane would essentially be a giant R/C model aircraft or a simplified version of the UAVs that the US Military uses.

The operator/controller would have the airplane take off, just like he would do for a model airplane. Using the altimeter and GPS telemetry data, he could adjust controls to cause the airplane to fly OVER the first of twenty remote villages in Somalia. At around 2,000 feet height above the ground, ONE of the solenoids is activated, which both drops the garbage bag AND rips the side out of it. The idea is that the 100 SEPARATE food and water packets then will drift downward. An important part is that they will naturally SPREAD OUT during that 2,000-foot fall, so that the hundred packets would likely land spread out over a two-city-block area.

No one person could collect them all! In fact, children might be able to collect more than half of the packets (or even FIND some of them).

The point is that NO criminal would ever have any chance of stealing more than a handful of packets, which is not worth their trouble!

There is reasonable chance that at least FIFTY different families might then obtain one or two of the packets.

The MRE (food) packets would likely have a low terminal velocity, so they might land a few seconds after the (plastic, pint) water bottles would land. We do not believe that anyone would ever be hurt even if an MRE happened to land on him or her, and we feel that even if a rare (plastic) water bottle might happen to land on someone, no serious injury should occur. If anyone ever was injured in that way, the daily air-drops might be released in different locations NEAR a village, so that a crowd of villagers would not be standing directly under the landing area. Also, if this project turned out to be as successful as we believe it will be, a manufacturer of plastic water bottles could design a sort of parachute or wings on the bottle to cause it to fall more slowly. But we think it would be rare that anyone even COULD get injured because the individual packets would likely spread out over a fairly large area on the way down.

People go to baseball games with a mitt, to try to catch a much harder baseball which is traveling at about twice the speed, and relatively few people are ever hurt by a baseball!

Since the families would be told that the aircraft would return at a specific time EVERY DAY, and possibly even TWICE A DAY or even THREE TIMES EACH DAY, then MANY INDIVIDUAL FAMILIES would receive desperately needed food and water, and on a fairly regular basis.

A LEADER in each community could watch to see that certain village residents have a chance of getting food and water, such as people in sickbeds or the extremely elderly, and that LEADER could watch to see some family that had found more than they needed would SHARE the packets they had collected.

Meanwhile, the airplane continues on to the next GPS target location of the next village, to release the next solenoid/bag of food/water.

In an hour, the airplane could cover a hundred miles and drop the twenty different air-drops of packets to the twenty target villages.

The entire process might only take four or five hours, from takeoff to landing. If volunteers had been bagging more packets during that time, then the airplane could be re-fueled, flight-checked, and the new twenty garbage bags hung from the wings, to take off for a second mercy flight. I believe it realistic that three entire flights could be done during daylight hours.

Since the person controlling the aircraft has GPS and altimeter data, the flights might even be able to run during darkness hours, in case some terrorist tries to use an RPG to shoot down the un-manned aircraft.

Notice that there are virtually NO limiting factors for this system! Av-gas Fuel availability AT AN AIRPORT should be unlimited. I would think that millions of generous people would buy water bottles and food packets for delivery to that airport. The specific point is that this very inexpensive aircraft, and simple and uncomplicated procedures could be DUPLICATED when other people in the US and Europe send more light aircraft to deliver food aid.

Each aircraft would be operated INDEPENDENTLY by its own team of (volunteer) workers and its own controller flying the aircraft. It seems realistic that twenty or even a hundred airplanes could be operated out of a single airport!

Since there is no pilot on board, some of creature comforts could be removed from the cabin, to increase the Net Weight Capacity of the airplane, which could then be nearly all food and water packets.

Do you see?

If a HUNDRED such airplanes were each delivering 2,000 packets, three times every day, that is 600,000 pounds of food and water delivered EVERY DAY! Likely aiding at least 300,000 distinct families and possibly more than a MILLION PEOPLE regularly!

Other airports could operate additional unmanned light aircraft, for even greater delivery rates of food and water, as the need calls for.

Yes, such unmanned light aircraft might occasionally have mechanical failures or crash for other reasons. But since NO HUMAN WAS EVER ON BOARD, there would be no loss of human life. The question then would be how long it would be before some other generous Americans or Europeans would spend around $12,000 to provide a replacement aircraft, such that the team could again be delivering food and water.

Given the wonderful publicity this concept would certainly gather, I suspect it would be nearly immediate that a replacement aircraft flew into the airport!

I am noting that the generous people who SENT such an aircraft, would CERTAINLY become very famous in their community and region. If they happened to run a local business (such as in Kansas or Idaho or Georgia or Hamburg) that sold aircraft or repaired aircraft or was an airport, THAT BUSINESS would suddenly get IMMENSE media exposure and the best of all P/R, and probably would get far more NEW BUSINESS than they could have gotten from advertising or in any other way!

THEY would see it as a $12,000 advertising investment that was well spent!

I am tempted to suspect that MOST such generous businesses might receive so much new business that they have greater profits than the cost they used in providing an old aircraft that they might have had trouble selling anyway!


The only complication I see in this is that the process of dropping 100 pounds of weight (in a garbage bag) from one of the wings would certainly cause the aircraft to wiggle. Some test flights would need to establish how serious that wiggle might be, to ensure that the aircraft did not go out of control. If it turned out to be a serious danger to the (unmanned) aircraft, the garbage bags might instead be attached to hooks on the fuselage (where the resulting torque from dropping 100 pounds would be very minimal). There are certain to be many solutions, in the event that this turned out to be a problem.


This presentation was first placed on the Internet in August 2011.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago