Helicopter Technology Is Modernizing With A Focus On Safety

by Sidney Reed

Modern helicopter technology is changing how crews do MEDEVAC missions. From the start of their mission to the end, technology is now at the forefront of success. In the last few years, the aviation world has seen innovative technology that reduces human error. As a result, helicopter crews see tremendous success when carrying out their missions.

Search and rescue crews have seen the most benefits thanks to advancements in technology, giving patients a more positive experience and a higher chance of survival. For example, aviation crews can now add an after-market helicopter-mounted avalanche rescue beacon that pings a GPS locator on the victim’s body. This beacon replaces the outdated search method for buried avalanche victims using nothing more than a long pole. The inefficient and slow process of rescuers on foot using long poles to prod the snow for bodies is outdated. Today, modern technology can quickly locate the trapped victim and expedite the rescue process to increase their survival chances significantly.

Another example is the Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System, which experts at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have been testing to upgrade their Black Hawks into autonomous aircraft. This technology is not meant to replace crew members. Still, it is considered “optimally manned” to act as a safety feature to ensure the continued flight of the helicopter in case of pilot injury or absence. Pilots would still have control of the helicopter but could engage the automation system to focus on more pressing or consuming tasks.

Taglines have traditionally been traditionally used to stabilize rescue kits under helicopters for search and rescue. But there have been multiple incidents and lawsuits involving patients spinning baskets, showing a need for a technological alternative to taglines. The Vita Rescue System solves this by using fan technology to stabilize the rescue basket against spin and swing, ensuring a stable ride up for patients and crews. In addition, it gives aircrews an additional tool to perform faster and safer hoists, resulting in patients being extracted and placed into medical care sooner. Like the “optimally manned” Black Hawks, the autonomous features allow crews to focus on more critical tasks while the Vita Rescue System automatically maintains its desired position during hoisting. This upgrade from a tagline means less risk for ground crews and reduced pilot fatigue during hover time.

The Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA) program continues its selection process for a UH-60 Black Hawk replacement. Candidates include the Valor and Osprey – two large helicopters that favor speed and efficiency by focusing on larger rotors for maximum thrust. The downside to such aircraft is the powerful rotor wash with enhanced lift and forward flight capabilities. Modern problems require modern solutions. The VRS is the ideal answer to the problem of stronger rotor wash that comes with adopting these new helicopters. The VRS can stabilize in even the most extreme rotor wash conditions, allowing crews to continue hoisting operations without relying on taglines.

Technology is often accompanied by concern for job loss or dependency on tools. More innovative equipment means less training time, offering users less time learning basics and more time mastering higher-level skills. Jobs are not eliminated but enhanced by the introduction of modern technology.

No one should question whether this modern technology is detrimental to existing jobs. Instead, doubters should realize that it’s part of an ongoing evolution to give patients a higher survival rate and aircrews the best chance of completing a successful mission.

Vita believes that a lack of technology should not be the difference between life and death.