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Apr 29, 2015 7:41 AM ET

Archived: The Syria Airlift Project – Humanitarian drones to end the use of starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war

iCrowdNewswire - Apr 29, 2015

The Syria Airlift Project

Humanitarian drones to end the use of starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war.
Jessie Mooberry

The Syria Airlift Project seeks to use humanitarian drones to deliver life-saving aid to besieged and hard-to-access populations in Syria.

Why the Syria Airlift Project?
by Mark Jacobsen, Founder

Imagine watching your child starve to death or die of a treatable illness, while supplies are available just a few miles away. This a tragic and widespread reality in Syria, where armed groups routinely use starvation and medical deprivation as weapons. More than 600,000 Syrians are estimated to live in besieged or hard-to-access areas. Doctors are assassinated, hospitals are targeted, and smuggling medical supplies can result in torture or execution. Syrians feel abandoned and hopeless.

What if it was possible to make a difference? What if modern technology allowed us to fight back against sieges? What if we could eventually make the use of starvation and medical deprivation obsolete as weapons of war?

Those are questions I asked myself while visiting Syrian refugees in eastern Turkey last year. As a US Air Force cargo pilot, Syrians asked me why the US government could not simply airdrop supplies. The answer is that the risks to manned cargo aircraft are too great. It seemed to me there might be another way. If we couldn’t fly one big airplane into besieged areas, maybe we could fly a lot of little ones.

I founded the Syria Airlift Project with the belief that small humanitarian drones can add up to a big difference. If we could launch a plane every five minutes, we could deliver hundreds of pounds of cargo a night inside otherwise inaccessible areas. The paradigm would be especially useful for high-value, low-mass goods like medical supplies, water purification tools, vitamins, and baby milk. Operated at scale, we could even deliver meaningful quantities of food. We could overwhelm besieging forces with goodness, compassion, and the conviction that a better world is possible. A generation of children that has only known war–that looks to the sky in terror of barrel bombs–will soon look up in anticipation of life-giving aid. We will send  a message that the world has not forgotten them (and with some perks, you can send your own personal message as well). Our vision is to train Syrian refugees to operate these aircraft, giving them the opportunity to bring healing and hope back to their shattered country. 

We have spent the past year developing the technology. Our work culminated with an exercise in March 2015 in California, where we taught groups of Syrian and Iraqi families how to operate our aircraft. Now we are ready to take our technology to Turkey, and we need your help to get there.

Mass starvation of innocents is not an inevitable tragedy of war. Though the Syria Airlift Project, you have the opportunity to fight back. Help us get to Turkey, and prove that our technology can work. Join the movement.


BBC Coverage of the Syria Airlift Project

Be sure to check out the BBC’s companion written piece.

The Uplift Aeronautics Team

To execute the Syria Airlift Project, we founded a U.S.-registered nonprofit corporation (501(c)3 exemption status pending) called Uplift Aeronautics with a mission “to empower and aid communities through innovative aviation technology.”

We are a motley crew of Stanford PhD candidates, military veterans, pacifists, international policy experts, a former State Department desk officer for Syria, a leading technology humanitarian expert, and many others, who donate their expertise and time because they are passionate about our cause.

Even as we deliver aid, we aim to empower people and communities most in need. That is why we name our various aircraft for Syrians and others who inspire us. 

The backbone of our current fleet is the Waliid, which is capable of flying 30 km (18 miles) to airdrop 1kg (2.2lb) by parachute and then returning safely. We are currently developing a larger aircraft capable of delivering 2kg (4.4 lb) payloads at a range of 50km (30 mi). We envision operating a “conveyor belt” with numerous aircraft to sustainably deliver cargo inside Syria. If we could launch a plane every 5 minutes, that would be 400 lbs delivered per night. That’s just for one launch crew. We hope to operate in scale. 

We are committed to employing this technology in a way that empowers and uplifts the communities we work with. We demonstrated this commitment at the Syria Airlift Challenge: Sacramento in March 2015. Below are just a few pictures of Syrian and Iraqi families who joined the movement to bring healing back to their countries.

What We Need and Why

We need $50,000 in order to send 3 members of the Syria Airlift Project to Turkey for a month this summer to conduct a pilot program. We intend to train an initial cadre of Syrian refugees as humanitarian UAV operators, test our technology in field conditions, and demonstrate our capabilities to stakeholders in government and the humanitarian sectors. Flights will initially be limited to Turkey while we build trust with stakeholders and stand up our organization. With the help of our partner organizations like Project Amal ou Salam , we also hope to empower Syrian communities through activities like aviation-themed day camps and field trips to participate in our flight operations.

When we are ready, we will seek permission to cross the border into Syria. Initial trials will be small-scale and carefully monitored. We support the provision of aid to hard-to-access Syrians in the spirit of UN Security Council resolutions 2139 and 2165.  As we demonstrate the capability for repeated success, we can begin to scale. We are committed to safe, reliable, and legal operations, and are working closely with experienced aid organizations in the region. Our vision is to be a creative logistics company, which provides delivery services to these long-established organizations.

Here is how we anticipate our funds will be used:

In addition to our crowdfunding campaign, we are seeking grants and donations from other sources. If we are unable to reach our target, we will continue fundraising until we are able to execute our pilot project in Turkey.

This is a demanding project with high political and legal obstacles to overcome. In the event the Syria Airlift Project cannot obtain the requisite permissions to enter Syria, your funds will support other Uplift Aeronautics projects with a humanitarian focus, including disaster response, medical deliveries, and humanitarian aid in other conflict zones. 

Stretch Goals


$50,000 represents the minimum viable amount we need to conduct a pilot in Turkey. It will get us there, but we will remain resource-constrained and volunteer driven. 

Our ultimate vision is to do much, much more. Greater funding will allow us to hire full-time engineering talent to accelerate our progress. We will also need sustained funding to scale and maintain operations in Turkey. 

Finally, we hope to take our technology to other places in the world where it can save lives and make a difference.




OUR PERKS ARE NOT YOUR AVERAGE PERKS. We have a couple very low cost giveaways, but you won’t see much merchandise. Every coffee mug and t-shirt means one less package landing in the hands of hard-to-access Syrians. We know you understand, and we can offer you something even better.

1) A Community- even after our Indiegogo campaign ends, we want you to remain a part of our movement

2) A Story – the chance to share in ours, and an opportunity to write one of your own

3) Impact – the ability to see with your own eyes the difference you are making

Donations will directly support our Turkey pilot project, research and development of technologies for delivering humanitarian aid in hard-to-access areas, and related Uplift Aeronautics projects that contribute to our long-term vision of ending the use of starvation and medical deprivation as weapons.

Please note that our mission-oriented perks are representative of the types of expenses we will face, but we will allocate funds in the best possible way to achieve our purpose. Perks related to airdrops in Syria are contingent upon securing the requisite permissions to enter the country. 

The Impact
“Once Syria is rebuilt, we won’t stop. We will go find people who are suffering in other countries, and we will help them too.” – Doctor Waliid, namesake and inspiration for our primary aircraft
In the 21st century, there is no reason mass starvation and medical deprivation should be used as weapons of war. The technology exists to ensure aid can always get through; it merely needs to be integrated and put into action. The Syria Airlift intends to just that. 
We aim to create a nonviolent, compassionate, and unifying movement that can bring together Syrians of every faith and political allegiance, alongside partners from around the world. 

“As bad as things can get in the world, there is still a place for good people to do good things that matter.”

– Mark Jacobsen, founder


Frequently Asked Questions

Who is your founder?

Mark Jacobsen is an active duty C-17 cargo pilot and Middle East Specialist in the US Air Force, and is currently pursuing his doctoral PhD in Political Science at Stanford University. He founded Uplift after doing research among Syrian refugees in eastern Turkey in 2014. He received an Olmsted scholarship in 2008, spent two years in Amman learning Arabic, and earned a Master’s of Arts in Conflict Resolution from the University of Jordan. The Syria Airlift Project and Uplift Aeronautics are his personal initiatives.

What is your mission?

Our legally binding mission for Uplift Aeronautics is to empower and aid communities through innovative aviation technologies.

Our pilot project’s mission is to demonstrate the capability to reliably and sustainably deliver humanitarian aid into Syria.

Is this legal?

We are in the process of applying for all necessary licenses and plan to follow all U.S. and Turkish legal regulations related to our project. We are actively working with many stakeholders to ensure that all future actions will be in compliance with the law.

Bringing humanitarian aid into Syria is specifically addressed in United Nations Security Council Resolutions 2139, 2165, and 2191.

UNSCR 2165 and 2191 state, “all Syrian parties to the conflict shall enable the immediate and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance directly to people throughout Syria” by UN humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners and are tasked with “immediately removing all impediment to the provision of humanitarian assistance.” UNSCR 2191 renewed this decision until 10 January 2016.

In addition, UNSCR 2139 “[d]emands that all parties respect the principle of medical neutrality and facilitate free passage to all areas for medical personnel, equipment, transport and supplies, including surgical items, and recalls that under international humanitarian law, the wounded and sick must receive, to the fullest extent practicable, and with the least possible delay, medical care and attention required by their condition and that medical and humanitarian personnel, facilities and transport must be respected and protected.”

Who are you guys? 

We are a group of volunteers comprised of Stanford PhDs, a Syrian Engineer, a Harvard law student, a former State Department Syrian desk officer, a Quaker pacifist, the communications director for Science Fiction Writers of America, a specialist on peaceful uses for technology, and many others.

Who do you support politically?

The Syria Airlift Project is politically neutral and is focused on innocent civilians–not governments, rebel groups, or other militias. Our logo includes the flags of both the Syrian government and opposition groups overlaid with a peace dove.

We are focused on delivering humanitarian aid to populations inaccessible to traditional aid organizations and plan to operate as a service provider for those organizations. Uplift Aeronautics and the Syria Airlift Project operate in a legal and transparent fashion, and fully intend to cooperate with all relevant bodies of law. This includes US export regulations, Turkish import regulations, sanctions law on Syria, and others. We are consulting with the US Air Force, US State Department, the Humanitarian UAV Network, and various medical NGOs, and are receiving legal assistance from Harvard Law School. We will only execute in-country if we can do so in a way that is safe, responsible, and legal.

What about people stealing your technology?

Technology transfer is indeed a concern. That is why the Syria Airlift Project plans to launch and recover from neighboring countries, and has developed failsafes that cripple the autopilots in the event of crashes inside Syria.

Armed groups already have UAV technology. ISIS is using multicopters for imagery, and militias in the Ukraine are using this technology for military reconnaissance. Pandora’s box has been opened, and this technology is out there… for better or worse. The bad guys have it; the Syria Airlift Project is trying to give it to the good guys.

What about violating sovereign airspace?

Violating the sovereign territory or airspace of another country is no small matter which is why it’s so significant that the UN Security Council took the unprecedented steps of authorizing non-consensual aid delivery inside Syria with resolutions 2139, 2165 and 2191. The UN decided that the rights of individual citizens to food and medical care trumped the norm of non-intervention in another government’s affairs. Non-consensual aid is being delivered inside Syria every day. We are also talking with the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government recognizes as a legitimate political actor inside Syria. Again, the Syria Airlift Project is working closely with the requisite authorities to ensure its flights are grounded in both domestic and international law.

How do you decide who gets aid?

The Syria Airlift Project is a creative logistics company, which aims to deliver aid for humanitarian nonprofits and NGOs. We will work with partners who have extensive experience in the field of humanitarian aid delivery. Ultimately they will decide who receives cargo, and where. We will just be a part of their supply chain.

The Syria Airlift’s partner NGOs have identified a number of locations they could make a difference that are within reach of the border. And while we have no love for the brutal fighting groups occupying much of the territory inside Syria (many of whom are responsible for hoarding and depriving civilians of aid), we believe that civilians suffering inside this territory still deserve medical care. We are working with experienced NGOs to discuss where and when to deliver aid in ways that do not empower extremist groups. These dilemmas are not unique to our project; they are a tragic reality for all aid organizations working inside conflict zones like Syria.

How many drones are you hoping to fly for the Syrian Airlift Project?

We plan to begin with a single aircraft, which will allow us to test and validate our assumptions with a minimum of risk. From there we can scale as necessary. We would like to operate fleets of 10-15 aircraft, but can establish multiple fleets to meet the needs of the humanitarian organizations we service.

How do you know where to send these aircraft?

Experienced and trustworthy nonprofit organizations have been working in Syria for years, and maintain trusted networks of contacts inside the country. The Syria Airlift Project will be a service provider for these organizations, and will trust their judgment about where to deliver cargo. In many cases, these organizations can communicate directly with intended recipients. We also envision drops that don’t require a precise destination, such as candy drops for children.

Does this project pose risks for people on the ground?

This is an important question, and one we are taking very seriously. Syrians trapped inside Syria are exposed to unimaginable horrors, including indiscriminate artillery shelling, barrel bombs, and even chemical attacks. It is possible that aid deliveries could bring additional risks, but given the dire humanitarian situation in many places, that extra risk might be worth it. This is ultimately a decision that people on the ground should make for themselves, which is why we are trusting experienced and professional aid organizations–who maintain contacts inside the country–to help us direct aid.

Why northern Syria? Aren’t the worst sieges near Damascus?

It is true that some aid gets through to northern cities like Aleppo and Idlib, but aid convoys are subject to lengthy delays, checkpoint bribes and extortion, and violence between fighting groups. If critical supplies run low, it can take weeks or longer for fresh supplies to arrive. Our partner organizations emphasize our advantage in delivering desperately needed aid quickly.

It is true that the worst sieges are deeper in the country. We eventually hope to reach these places as well, but this is a new and difficult technology, and those places are currently beyond our range. We have to start somewhere. When the U.S. committed to send a man to the moon, it didn’t immediately build a Saturn V rocket; it built comparatively tiny Redstone rockets, and iterated its way up to progressively larger and more capable technologies.

Is my donation tax-exempt?

We wish we could say yes, but Uplift Aeronautics is a relatively new organization and our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status is still pending. Unfortunately, we cannot offer tax-exempt status for donations at this time.

What will you do with the money if you don’t raise enough?

In addition to our crowdfunding campaign, we are seeking grants and donations from other sources. We will continue fundraising until we are able to execute our pilot project in Turkey.

What will you do with the money if you exceed your goal?

We will continue developing and implementing technology solutions that advance Uplift’s mission of empowering and aiding communities through innovative aviation technology. We are especially interested in running a separate pilot project to support medical deliveries in austere environments. We will also continue to research and develop new technology that can support our missions in Syria and elsewhere.  

Make a donation today and join the movement!

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Contact Information:

Mark Jacobsen
Jessie Mooberry

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