A Vita Rescue System Case Study: The Cliffs and Oceans of Portugal

Vita completed its Vita Rescue System (VRS) demonstration to Squadron 751 at Air Base #6 in Portugal. This demonstration underscores the global interest in improving the safety and efficiency of helicopter hoist rescues. Conducting these demonstrations requires tremendous planning and skill, but the net results are well worth the efforts! In this blog, Vita will take you behind the scenes to experience the VRS training session with Squadron 751, a.k.a Pumas.

The Pumas were formed on April 28, 1978, as a Portuguese Air Force helicopter squadron. Squadron 751, was named after the Aérospatiale SA-330 PUMA helicopter received when they were commissioned. Their motto is “Para que outros vivam,” translated into English as “So others may live.” Their motto represents the squadron’s purpose: conducting search and rescue (SAR) missions and MEDEVAC medical evacuation operating 24/7. To ensure successful missions, the Pumas are constantly searching for the best MEDEVAC technology—and Vita’s VRS caught their attention.

The VRS Demonstration

On June 22, 2022, a Vita team consisting of Caleb Carr, Founder/CEO, Everett Mansfield, Director of Customer Success, and Noel Bishop, Executive Assistant, joined the Pumas for VRS ground-based familiarization and live demo flights under PAF helicopters, near Lisbon, Portugal at the Portuguese Air Base.

POC Major Rodolfo Gouveia gave the Vita team a brief tour of the building, including the crew “day room,” mission readiness room, briefing room, and main hangar. Vita teams ran the Pumas in the briefing room through VRS capabilities, limitations, operational envelope, etc. Many of their questions were about incorporating the VRS into their current SOPs. To address these questions, the group went to the hangar and worked through how the VRS would integrate with their standard procedure for pulling the litter basket into the helicopter.

Following lunch, the VRS was hung with a litter basket and connected to a crane for a hands-on performance demo, where a Vita team member spun and swung a squadron member in the basket. The crane demonstration is necessary to give operators a sense of VRS capabilities and responsiveness and get them familiar with the controls. After the crane demonstration, the Vita team and Pumas gathered for lunch, where the Pumas presented their impressive and rich history of SAR missions.

On the morning of June 23, 2022, both teams gathered for the final portion of the VRS demonstration. Due to the preparation exercises conducted the previous day, the group could execute the flying portion immediately—and were privileged to have Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Sentieiro accompany them.

Following a complete pre-flight briefing, both teams boarded an AgustaWestland AW101 (Merlin) helicopter to conduct four rescue sorties along the cliffs in southern Lisbon, in the Atlantic Ocean. “All sorties were successful with the system operating exceptionally well. The system was amazing in the face of the thunderous Merlin rotor wash coming off the cliffs,” said the crews of Squadron 751.

After lunch, the crews returned to the air and navigated to the cliffs of the south side of Lisbon, where four hoists of various configurations were conducted. It was apparent to the Pumas how well the VRS performed in the face of the roaring rotor wash coming off the cliffs. The high point of this hoist cycle for the Vita team was the comfort and skill the Pumas displayed while using the VRS.

The VRS demonstration ended with a full debrief from the crews where the Pumas shared the best configuration and uses for the system within their own SOPs as well as areas that the VRS will allow them to change/adapt/improve their current operations.

The VRS demonstration to Squadron 751 is just one of many conducted worldwide. All U.S. military branches, domestic search and rescue (SAR) responders, and organizations in Chile and Japan have requested demonstrations. Most notably, Caleb Carr personally traveled to the Ukrainian war zone to train the country’s MEDEVAC crews in the Lviv and Kyiv region; the State Emergency Service of Ukraine has formally requested 30 VRS systems.