The site is a former RAF base and has a 270m runway, four dedicated landing pads for vertical, or vertical to horizontal take-off, and multiple flying areas offering real-world environments.
The DTDC offers permanent hangars as workshop space for companies wishing to base themselves at Westcott, and flexible workbench options for those operators looking for short term leases and a place to test their equipment. The Satellite Applications Catapult is proud to have Skyports Drone Services as their inaugural customer.
Future plans for the site include development of Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) capabilities and pilot training. The launch event included opening speeches by industry experts, funders and supporting companies, including tours of the DTDC and Skyports Drone Services Hangar, Drone Operator stands, and a demonstration by SLiNK Tech and Cambridge Sensoriis of their automated take-off and landing systems for drones and air-taxis.
Lucy Edge, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Director of Satellite Applications Catapult, who opened the site, said: “The drone test and development centre is a fantastic facility, providing accessible and flexible workshop spaces to support cutting edge drone technologies. With our secure runway on-site, clients can easily operate and fly their drones within a safe testing environment.
“Our first customer, Skyports Drone Services, is already working from its flight operations headquarters at the site and is sure to push the boundaries of what is possible to super charge growth at Westcott and beyond.”
Supporting the launch, SLiNK-TECH, a provider of automated take-off and landing systems for drones and air-taxis and Cambridge Sensoriis, a supplier of drone radar systems for automated landings, showcased future possibilities for the facility with a wider state-of-the-art drone technology demonstration.
Planned research in three new dedicated hangars will include developing, testing and evolving equipment used for the safe, efficient and effective management of drone flights, as well as wider aviation and aerospace research. Hangar 1 is currently occupied by Skyports Drone Services which operates its flight ops HQ at Westcott, where its expert team of drone pilots plan and operate remote operations and collaboratively train and onboard new vehicles.
Michael Merritt, Strategy Associate at Skyports Drone Services, said: “The Westcott Innovation Centre has been an important hub for Skyports Drone Services since we first moved to the facility in March 2022.
“The development of the DTDC is a sign of growing demand for drone operations and will support our flight operations both here in the UK and globally. The cutting-edge facility compliments our commitment to innovation and will be used to continually develop and enhance our services. We are hugely appreciative of the support we have received from Catapult so far and look forward to continuing our work together to build a world-class drone services hub right here in Westcott.”
The development of the DTDC has been made possible with support from a key local partner, the Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership, who have invested £1.4 million of Bucks LEP Getting Building Funds.
Nigel MacKenzie, Development Manager at Westcott, said: “We are thrilled to support this innovative project bringing yet another heritage area of the site back into use and extending the test capabilities at Westcott into the exciting field of unmanned aerial vehicles.
“Westcott is already home to a number of pioneering drone testing companies and these new facilities will benefit existing onsite occupiers as well as attracting new operators to the site. This will further enhance the ever-growing ecosystem of technology companies at Westcott and allow them to work collaboratively to undertake research and development of market-leading aviation technologies and services.”
It is anticipated that the new facility will generate dozens of new jobs to Buckinghamshire in the next decade and will enjoy extensive support from a range of local businesses.
Matt Peachey, Head of Enterprise Zone Development at Buckinghamshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “It’s great to see further innovation within the Westcott Space Cluster driven by this new Drone Test and Development Centre. We are proud to have provided Getting Building Funds to help establish this pioneering new facility and see the potential this offers to further develop the Buckinghamshire Enterprise Zone.
“We hope the centre will help to shape and transform private and commercial aviation over the next decade and will further establish the county as a global centre of excellence in drone and space technology.”
All drone operations at Westcott follow strict UK CAA regulations.