SAR requirements trigger a demand for more hefty helos
Search and rescue ops bring need for more speed, range and lift capacity.
Sikorsky's S92A can meet the requirements of the UK's contract for privatized search and rescue with the capability to fly a preprogrammed search pattern for 1 hr at 190 nm with standard fuel.
In early 2011 the process had a do-over as the preferred bidder came forward to reveal improprieties during the bidding process—notably, obtaining sensitive information not available to other bidders. The UK government has since reconfirmed the decision for a fully privatized SAR network and the plan for a 10-year service contract was open for competition and divided into 2 lots (5 bases apiece) which could be bid on separately or combined.
Lot 1 requires a larger helicopter with greater range and payload with a specified minimum capacity per aircraft of 8 casualties or survivors and a minimum radius of action of 200 nm (and 250 nm at RAF Stornoway). This 10-year operational phase and 2-year implementation phase was valued at £1.2–1.8 billion.
Lot 2 includes the requirement for only 4 casualties or survivors and a minimum radius of action of just 170 nm. The value of Lot 2 is estimated at £800 million–£1.3 billion.
Both lots allow for a 24-month option at each base after the initial 10-year period. Lot 3 combines the service requirement of both Lots 1 and 2.
Three companies have submitted bids for each of the 3 lots—Bond Offshore Helicopters, Bristow Helicopters and CHC Scotia. The government expects to announce the names of the successful bidders early next year.
Keeping it in the family, Sikorsky was favored to win the contract the first time around for the UK's privatized SAR network with its S92A Superhawk. The preferred bidder, the Soteria Consortium—made up of CHC, Sikorsky, Thales and the Royal Bank of Scotland—selected the S92A for SAR missions requiring more capacity and range. Successful completion of this contract would make CHC the largest provider of civilian SAR aircraft in the world.
The S92A can fly a programmed search pattern in the multimission management system (MMMS) for 1 hr at 190 nm with standard fuel and 345 nm with aux tanks. Production S92As for the SAR mission will be equipped with the Universal MMMS. For further range, the S92A can rescue 2 survivors at 205 nm and 10 survivors at 180 nm. Again, with addition of aux tanks these distances expand to 320 and 290 nm, respectively.
Eurocopter's Cougar and Puma
LA County Sheriff Dept's Rescue-5 flies one of 3 newly acquired AS332L1 Super Pumas equipped with FLIR camera, hoist, upgraded avionics package and enough power for high-altitude mountain rescues.
Other large helicopters out there in use today to meet the longer range and higher lift capacity are Eurocopter's Cougar and Super Puma. Recently, the Royal Thai Air Force ordered 4 SAR-configured EC725s for delivery in 2015.
The contract calls for the EC725 twin-engine tactical helicopter from Eurocopter's successful Cougar line—a derivative of the Super Puma—to feature a high-performance navigation system including a 4-axis autopilot in addition to an SAR mission package. Standard configuration allows for 25 passengers, so the helicopter will have more than adequate space for multiple survivors and litters.
In California, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept (LASD) Aero Bureau recently unveiled newly upgraded AS332 L1 Super Pumas they acquired to replace their aging Sikorsky SH3H Sea Kings. Reasons quoted for the upgrade and change of aircraft mirror the decision made by the UK's MoD—parts and support for the old workhorse are difficult and expensive to obtain.
LASD's Aero Bureau enjoys a long fruitful history dating back to 1955 when the department obtained its first Bell 47. In the 1970s, the piston-engine Sikorsky H34 was acquired followed by the turbine-powered S58T. In 1998, the department upgraded to the H3s and with each aircraft upgrade came a corresponding increase in speed and capability.
Arrival of the Super Puma again marks a significant increase in speed and useful load with better high-altitude performance in the mountains surrounding Los Angeles County, which will greatly enhance safety during rescue and hoisting operations.
SAR equipment will include an external hoist, nose-mounted FLIR cameras, NVG-compatible cockpits, multipatient medical interiors and various other modifications to meet the mission requirements of the Aero Bureau.
Avionics upgrades include advanced Universal Avionics flight displays, GPS/WAAS and a flight operational quality assurance (FOQA) program. All upgrades and additions bring the Aero Bureau's program in alignment with some of the industry's highest standards for flight safety and operational capability.
Although the Puma is 25% smaller in size than the Sea King, it carries the same number of people, is faster and more powerful—which translates to a 30% faster response time. According to LASD Sgt Morrie Zager, "This additional speed and all-weather capability brought to bear against the 'golden hour' for trauma patients will undoubtedly save lives."
Bell 525 enters fray
At the 2012 HAI convention, Bell introduced its latest project—the 525 Relentless. This highbred helicopter will be designed specifically for the rugged requirements of the deepwater environment.
Bell says that the new deepwater helicopter will not just be about the helicopter any more—it must encompass the entire aircraft as a system. Bell notes the need for speed and increased endurance and loiter times.
The designers must consider a reasonable time for a specific and efficient search pattern and include time for putting a rescue swimmer down the hoist and up again. Then, when the survivor is on board, high tech medical equipment must be available to ensure the patient has an increased chance of survival while enroute to the trauma center.
Planned advances include a fly-by-wire system which will integrate seamlessly with the autopilot and MMMS to maximize fuel during the search pattern and actually give limited aircraft control to the hoist operator during hoist operations to maneuver the helicopter precisely over the survivor.
Advanced avionics include INS, GPS and Doppler systems all working in concert to find the survivor quicker and return him/her to safety. The Bell 525 will be equipped with a Garmin G5000 glass cockpit and an as yet undetermined MMMS with mark-on-target for quick target designation once the survivor is located.
With all-weather capability, complete with an approach to hover over a point, the Relentless may well be the next generation of SAR helicopter.