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Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Search and Rescue: Tough Enough

Equipment manufacturers and vendors are creating innovative products tough enough for the challenging SAR environment.

By James Careless

WHETHER FOR CIVIL/FIRST RESPONDER, COMMERCIAL, or military helicopters, search-and-rescue (SAR) equipment has never been more in demand. Mindful of this, SAR equipment manufacturers and vendors are creating innovative products tough enough for the challenging SAR environment. Here are some of the SAR products that are available today.

Tyler Technologies
Tyler Technologies' special-operations platform is designed to support missions such as emergency evacuation response, dive team transport and SWAT.
SkyHook Rescue Systems
SkyHook Rescue Systems has a number of hoist related products for the search-and-rescue community.
AeroFix GPS 406
ACR Electronics' handheld AeroFix GPS 406 Personal ELT is designed to help SAR crews locate downed pilots, by providing a satellite-detectable personal distress signal.
Vendors are offering a variety of advanced moving-map and warning systems for SAR operations.
SkyHook's Rescue Hook and Capture Ball
SkyHook's Rescue Hook and Capture Ball allows rescuers to secure a victim in moving water to a hook connected to the rescuer.
Drift Measurement
Aimed at improving the success of water-based SAR missions, the Seimac Self-Locating Datum Marker Buoy (www.seimac.com) helps measure current direction and speed when deployed in a rescue area. Data from the buoy is sent via the unit's ARGOS satellite data transmitter that periodically transmits its location when floating in fresh or salt water. Using this data combined with its onboard GPS locational measurements, the buoy can emulate the drift characteristics of either a Person in the Water with survival suit or a four-person life raft with drogue.

External Cargo Platforms
With the help of the Los Angeles Police Dept.'s Air Support Div., Tyler Technologies (www.tylertech.net) has created the Tyler Special Operations Platform (TSOP) cargo system to support missions such as emergency evacuation response, dive team transport and rapid SWAT insertion/extraction. The system comes with external benches on each side of the helicopter for transporting and deploying personnel. These benches are equipped with anchor points for seat belts, and tie-in rings to attach to personnel wearing safety harnesses. The system can also be fitted with special "quick-clamp" brackets and pip-pins or overhead anchor points for either fast-rope or rappel operations. For SAR missions, the system can provide external rescue-litter carriage, and quick access for SAR officers.

Hoist Equipment
Goodrich Hoist and Winch (www.hoistandwinch.com) has a 600-lb External Electric Rescue Hoist (Dual/Single Rescue Hoist) that can lift people or cargo. It is designed to serve SAR operations in the civil, Coast Guard, and combat arenas. This external hoist is in use on aircraft flown by the U.S Marines (V-22), the Australian Army (CH-47), and the Los Angeles Country Fire Dept. (S-70 Firehawk).

Broken hoist cable? Life Support International's (www.lifesupportintl.com) QuickSplice kit allows SAR operators to re-attach a hook to the cable with a minimum of fuss. There's no threading required; just wrap the bitter end of the cable around the plate, attach the hook, and get back to work. The QuickSplice plate is made of corrosion-resistant anodized aluminum, with a stainless steel self-locking shackle. It is rated to 2,500 lb.

Life Support International also sells the AxelCut hoist cable cutter. This is a one-handed device with Swedish steel cutting blades that allows a damage cable to be cut quickly, so that a QuickSplice can be put in place.

SkyHook Rescue Systems (www.skyhookrescue.com) has a number of hoist-related products for the search-and-rescue community. SkyHook's Rescue Hook and Capture Ball allows rescuers to "secure the victim in moving water to the hook which is also connected to the rescuer, which provides secure lifting ability for both," said SkyHook President Terry Ascherin. SkyHook's Rear Mount Harness allows rescuers to have both hands free when conducting a moving-water rescue, he added. It also serves as a combined water-rescue harness and a helicopter crew safety harness, providing belted connection to the aircraft.

Finally, SkyHook's Manual Emergency Rescue Device Helicopter Rope Hoist "is a quick, reliable inexpensive backup option for SAR missions," Ascherin said. "The system can raise, lower, and retrieve a rapeller if necessary."

Fast-Rope
Tyler Technologies' (www.tylertech.net) Fast-Rope Hook locks the rope in place when a load is applied, to prevent an accidental release during roping operations. The reason: In contrast to a conventional cargo hook that releases the load in the event of an aircraft emergency, the Tyler Fast-Rope hook is meant to provide a fail-safe condition for fast-roping personnel. Once the fast-ropers are safely on the ground, the fast-rope can be jettisoned with a two-function T-handle cable release mounted inside the cabin. The hook can also be physically locked in place to circumvent the cable release activation.

Imaging Systems
FLIR Systems' (www.flir.com) new Ultra 8500 XR helicopter camera system is a lightweight unit that combines state-of-the-art, thermal-imaging performance with a long-range daylight/low-light CCD. It comes with a high-sensitivity, 320X240 indium antimonide (InSb) infrared imager with 450 mm of zoom, while the Ultra 8500 XR's new low-light TV camera offers solid performance.

According to FLIR Systems, a Class III3b CW diode laser pointer can be added to the Ultra 8500 XR to improve ground coordination. Basically, the laser pointer will point at whatever the camera is aimed at. Ground forces equipped with night-vision goggles can see the 30-mW laser's beam and spot.

The U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency has selected four L-3 Wescam (www.wescam.com) MX-15i electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) systems for installation on its Sikorsky S-92 SAR aircraft. According to L-3 Wescam, the MX-15i single line replaceable unit is a technically advanced multi-sensor EO/IR that offers 25 percent less weight, increased range performance and an expanded ease-of-use control suite when compared to older models. The improved Digital IR camera in this unit is said to provide a 20 percent increase in IR range, to aid missions at night or during poor weather conditions. Meanwhile, the system's MX-GEO Gen 3 package includes a series of new technologies such as, GEO-Scan, automated video/geo-tracking and adaptive-geo. Each are billed as delivering maximum geographic location accuracy and significantly reducing operator fatigue in demanding and stressful
SAR operations.

Microwave Downlinks
Broadcast Microwave Services, Inc. (www.bms-inc.com) Microwave Video Links products allow ground crews to better understand what is happening on a given aircraft, by providing them with live video from the aircraft in flight. In SAR situations, live airborne video can give SAR ground crews a bird's eye view of the incident scene.

BMS offers a full line of both analog and digital microwave downlink systems. Their digital systems include an HCII airborne transmit system. As well, the company offers multiple receive options to support various ranges of transmission. These include a CVII short-range (5-km), hand-held video receiver, an MTDII medium-range (50-km), portable antenna pod, and a Silhouette long-range (100-km), fixed-antenna relay pod. BMS' downlink equipment is being used by the Washington State Patrol, the city of Atlanta, and the FBI domestically and the Brazilian and Colombian armies and Mexico's Zapopan Police Dept. internationally.

Enterprise Control Systems (www.enterprisecontrol.co.uk) designs and manufactures a large range of COFDM helicopter downlinking equipment. COFDM signal technology relies on multiple RF carriers to provide high -quality video transmissions, in environment where conventional video links fail.

ECS' Digital Base Station system consists of a COFDM antenna control unit, a COFDM active switch sector antenna and a COFDM digital base station receiver with dual channel video. Together, these three parts create a COFDM base station able to receive air-to-ground video transmission. The receiver has dual PAL, RGB, Y/C and MPEG2 transport stream video outputs and dual audio outputs and a NMEA output is provided for moving map applications.

The Digital Helicopter Downlink equipment is designed to comply with the U.K. Home Office's MG42C, DVB-T and MPEG2 specifications. This equipment can be used with both infrared and daylight cameras to produce DVD-quality images.

Personal Survival Radios
ACR Electronics' (www.acrelectronics.com) handheld AeroFix GPS 406 Personal ELT is designed to help SAR crews locate downed pilots, by providing a satellite-detectable personal distress signal that combines GPS locational information with the user's identity information. The palm-sized AeroFix can be activated with the push of a button, sending GPS data and the user's personalized identifier code on 406 MHz to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. The unit weighs 13.3 oz (holster included), operates in temperatures ranging from -58 to +158F, and will operate more than 24 hr in a -4F climate.

General Dynamics C4 Systems (www.gdc4s.com) can add two-way, dedicated satellite communications (SATCOM) and COSPAS SARSAT 406 waveform options to all AN/PRC-112G radios sold to the U.S. military. Offered as part of its HOOK2 Combat Search and Rescue Radio System (CSAR), which includes the AN/PRC-112G transceiver and the Quickdraw2 interrogator, these optional SATCOM capabilities enable over-the-horizon communications as well as direct, encrypted, survivor location and data to move between SAR rescue/recovery aircraft and downed crew members.

General Dynamics C4 Systems recently received an $8.9-million delivery order from the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command for 1,402 AN/PRC-112G CSAR radios. "Warfighters operate in isolated and hostile places so the AN/PRC-112G is their lifeline," said Chris Brady, vice president of Assured Communications Systems at General Dynamics C4 Systems. "General Dynamics has worked hard to earn the confidence the Air Force has in our solution and we remain utterly committed to their mission."

The HR Smith Group of companies' (www.hr-smith.com) Techtest Portable 406 SAR Decoder is a suitcase unit that allows for the detection, location, and verification of SAR 406 MHz beacons; including ELT, CPIU/ADELT, and EPIRBs. For helicopter-based SAR crews, the 406 can be used both in the air or on the ground, improving the chances of finding victims using SAR distress transmitters.

The Techtest 406 comes equipped with a portable 406 MHz dipole antenna, a backlit LCD graphic display, and a receiver with -83dBm sensitivity. The unit continuously monitors 406 MHz frequencies and displays beacon hexadecimal codes on its screen. If the sought-after SAR beacon is equipped to supply GPS locational data, the Techtest 406 will display it as well. The complete 406 weighs 13.2 lb, and runs either on an internal 12-v DC battery or using an AC adaptor.

Tadiran Spectralink (www.tadspec.com) has developed a new Personal Survival Radio to meet the specs of the German air force. Called the PRS-434G/SV Personal Survival Radio (PSR), this unit is equipped with an embedded GPS receiver and a large LCD display. It is described as being backwards-compatible with all previous ASARS versions and interoperable with airborne systems like ARS-700, ARS-700G and other NATO CSAR systems.

The PRC-434G/SV can be set to activate automatically in the case of aircraft mishap, or to be operated manually to talk to searching aircrews or other PSRs. This unit also has 40 preset text messages in its memory, which can be quickly selected and transmitted by the operator. The PRC-434G/SV will provide GPS location response to interrogations from airborne systems or another PSR on the ground. It is powered by LiMnO2 battery for up to 30 hr, at a Tx/Rx ratio of 1:10 (over 96 hr in sleep mode).

Radar Converter
Skyquest Aviation (www.skyquest.co.uk) is selling a Radar Converter. It allows users of the Telephonics RDR1500 search radar to replace their existing CRT radar indicators with modern, high performance LCD multi-function displays.

In doing so, the Radar Converter enables several video sources, including the RDR1500 radar image, to be displayed on the same high-resolution display. This increases the amount of search information available to onboard crew members who can either switch between individual inputs (radar, FLIR, color camera, or map) or view images simultaneously on the screen using the picture-in-picture functionality.

Rescue Lines
Rescue International's (www.rescueinternational.com) ResQmax is a portable line-throwing appliance designed to deploy a line only, or an auto-inflating flotation sling and retrieval line, to an otherwise inaccessible point in land-based and maritime environments.

According to the company, the ResQMax uses a non-pyrotechnic, re-usable, and re-fillable air-thrust method to send a line up to 400 ft away, and a auto-inflating harness and line up to 300 ft in the distance. The ResQMax comes with two manual back-up systems to provide redundancy.

Video Signal Distribution
Skyquest Aviation's (www.skyquest.co.uk) Video Management System (VMS) distributes video captured by a helicopter's on-board forward-looking infrared (flir) camera system to the aircraft's LCD video displays, video recorders and microwave links.

To keep up with the migration to high definition video in flir camera systems, Skyquest has launched a new range of HD-ready LCD displays. Their higher resolution gives users much more live video information, improving the chances for successful SAR missions even in poor visual conditions.

According to Skyquest, their new HD-ready displays started shipping in September 2006. In the UK, the London Metropolitan Police are the initial user on their new fleet of EC145 helicopters.

In Development
ImSAR (www.imsar.com) is developing a beta version of its prototype NanoSAR synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system.

NanoSAR is a small, high-resolution imaging product that can penetrate through cloud, smoke and dust.

The prototype has been tested on a Cessna 170 platform with images being generated in near real-time. The NanoSAR beta version will have real-time onboard video output that can be fed to a display in the cockpit or radio linked to the ground.

Radar is effective at detecting man-made objects in a natural environment. Metal and composite structures such as watercraft, aircraft, ATVs, vehicles, sheds and pipe appear very bright in SAR images.

The image is inherently geo-referenced, allowing searchers on the ground to receive GPS waypoints for investigation.

According to ImSAR, synthetic aperture radar systems have not been available to the search and rescue community due to the cost and size of traditional SAR systems. ImSAR hopes to change this through a combination of cost reductions and volume sales. Stay tuned!

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