SAR requirements trigger a demand for more hefty helos
Search and rescue ops bring need for more speed, range and lift capacity.
SAR equipment necessities
Universal Avionics' MMMS with 6 preprogrammed search patterns is standard on the SAR equipped Sikorsky S92.
Having a capable helicopter is only half the battle for successful SAR missions, according to Universal Avionics' Norm Matheis. The helicopter must have a viable navigation system with preplanned search patterns to search for survivors efficiently.
The Universal MMMS has 6 distinct preprogrammed search patterns and includes drifting target and mark-on-target features, as well as night vision imaging system (NVIS) compatibility essential for SAR and other special missions.
Universal has also received certification of its flagship EFI890H flat panel display to RTCA DO160E standards, meeting vibration and environmental challenges presented by helicopter SAR missions.
Other essential SAR equipment includes rescue beacon decoders and direction-finding avionics like the Becker 406-MHz beacon decoder. An SAR aircraft can be dispatched to a general location, but to find a downed aircraft or floundering mariner with an activated electronic locator transmitter (ELT), 406 transponder or other electronic locator beacon (eg, PLB, SPLB, EPIRB), the responder must be able to locate the survivor quickly and track directly toward them.
The Becker beacon decoder has its own 2.5-in display, which can also be retransmitted to other glass cockpit displays for more integrated information.
Future lift contributions to SAR
All future lift rotorcraft like Sikorsky's coaxial X2 and SAR versions of Eurocopter's X3 project will maintain the ability to hover and perform hoist operations at a stationary hover. Supplementary propellers will provide a significant increase in speed over conventional helicopters and greatly increase fuel efficiency. Speed and endurance are the yardsticks to measure the consummate SAR helicopter and these future machines will certainly provide that.
AgustaWestland stands ready to meet future SAR requirements with both the AW189 (based on the AW139 already in use as a SAR platform) and the radically different AW609 Tiltrotor.
Future SAR operators will benefit from the AgustaWestland AW189's size and greater range. All-weather capability and known ice certification is a must for SAR operations in the north. Here too the AW189 measures up.
Tiltrotor technology has a place in long-distance out to sea rescue as proved recently by the US Marines and Navy when an immediate medical evacuation from a submarine under way took place.
The V22 Osprey flew at speeds far above a conventional helicopter's capability, hovered over the submarine to hoist the patient into the aircraft and sped toward the closest medical facility.
Later, the Navy acknowledged that the mission could not have been performed by a conventional helicopter and the outcome for the patient could have been dramatically different. The AW609 has possibilities in the SAR arena given higher speeds to cover the search area quicker and higher altitude capability to and from the mission area to avoid weather.
Man vs machine
Modern avionics, like the Garmin G5000 shown in this Bell 525 cockpit mockup, coupled with a fly-by-wire system, will improve SAR operations and reduce critical time during rescue.
According to USCG Commander Horne, new equipment is not needed at present and USCG is unlikely to pursue new airframes for 10–15 years. What Horne does say is that he will push for better training for mariners to use the new equipment properly—like the automated marine radio distress alerting system known as digital selective calling (DSC) which automatically sends a distress call as well as vessel location.
Professional mariners are easier to locate when their vessels are in trouble because they have been fully trained on emergency beacon locators like EPIRBs.
Those who need training on EPIRBs and ELTs are the casual boaters who purchase boats and either don't know how to set up the equipment properly or neglect it before it is ever needed. They are more likely not to know their true position in an emergency which makes the SAR team's job of location and rescue far more difficult.
Further out to sea, SAR aircraft of the future will need to be capable of higher speeds and longer loiter times to reach deepwater areas where drilling rigs are now operating. It is highly unlikely that unmanned aerial vehicles will find a niche in this tough environment for some time to come.
Regardless of the equipment available now or in the future, aircraft will be crewed by brave men and women who place their lives on the line.
Jay Chandler has written for Pro Pilot magazine since 1995 and has flown for the FAA, military and Part 91 and 135 operators.