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History of helicopters and how they came to be sued as/ creation of medivacs Air ambulances ‘angles of mercy’

1. Introduction

One hundred years ago- on Nov. 13, 1907- Frenchman Paul Cornu is generally held to have become airborne, if by the slightest of margins, and for a little more than a hop, astride an airframe fitted with contra rotating blades. The reemergence of design ideas is a leitmotif of helicopter development. With over a hundred year history, helicopters help society in dealing with issues of transportation from/to difficult places of destination. Among the main areas of use of it we may point functions of people search and rescue on certain territory as well as military transportation functions. As our society continues exploring new territories within various geographical boundaries, the use of helicopters becomes vital for ambulance and military services because of their convenience.

2. History of helicopters

Given the proper view of Cornu’s original effort, it is necessary to abandon skepticism as to the value of the helicopter, which appears to be justified. While the helicopter set out to provide the same basic capabilities as a fixed-wing aircraft, it aimed to do so without the encumbrance of a grass strip or a runway. Instead of the comparative luxury of discrete propulsion, lift and control elements of a conventional aircraft design, the helicopter tried to combine these within the same machinery. Available propulsion systems were also ill-suited to the needs of rotary flight.

In the early decades of powered flight, the pace of development of fixed-wing aircraft rapidly outstripped that of their rotary compatriots, with the latter remaining little more than a curio. By the 1930s, however, engines were beginning to provide power-to-weight performance ranges that promised to take the helicopter beyond the realm of novelty. Encouraging designs that began to emerge in the second half of the 1930s received added impetus from World War II, with development continuing apace during the late 1940s. By the early 1950s, military rotary-wing operations had genuinely arrived.[1]

Commercially new vistas were also on the horizon, with the helicopter offering the potential to provide services from the heart of cities. It’s a potential, however, that remains largely unfulfilled. While military operators would accept the relative discomforts of noise and vibration, as well as the helicopters comparatively slow speed and limited range, these were to remain a hindrance commercially. Added to the internal noise issue was the problem of external noise. An increasing focus on all aspects of the environmental impact of aviation only raises the bar for the helicopter community in this area.

3. Helicopter missions

One particular example of the great role of helicopter aviation rescue can be perceived from the search and rescue operations held back in 2005, when society was dealing with terrible outcomes of tsunami in Indonesia. Storm-produced conditions, including breakdowns in airport security and blocked road systems, hindered efforts to move aid to where it was most needed. For example, the principal airport on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island was closed for most of a critical day back then, when water buffalo wandered onto an active runway and were struck by a 737 relief aircraft. And there were no air controllers at the Banda Aceh airport, adding to congestion and slowing the pace of relief. U.S. considered greater use of helicopters that helped avoiding the bottlenecks. About 50 U.S. helicopters were operating in the region, and more units were brought from Guam and South Korea. Military planners determined that an extensive vertical lift capability is crucial for effective and rapid disaster response, according to Adm. Thomas Fargo, at that time chief of U.S. Pacific Command. He expected increase in U.S. helicopter force in the region and a significant help of it.[2]

The relief effort’s huge appetite for rotary -and fixed-wing transport flying hours came at a time when those assets had already been worn heavily by duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Due to the high need in helicopters during that and similar operations, U.S. military officials became sure of further strain on equipment readiness, with bills coming due later during 2005 year and significant defense budget cuts were made for the Fiscal 2006 budget, again showing the great governmental concern in this transportation unit. Nonetheless, U.S. Navy helicopters were delivering food parcels from Navy ships anchored off Banda Aceh directly to the ocean-ravaged areas. Airports in the region were also becoming critical medical facilities as they received injured survivors being ferried out of the devastated areas. In addition, helicopters and ships patrolled the area well out to sea where people have been found alive, floating on debris, as far as 100 miles offshore.[3] At that time the whole world community was involved in dealing with the disaster and the help of helicopters was unquestionable during search and rescue operations.

One out of three aircraft used in the U.S. military is a helicopter. More than 10,000 helicopters in the military are used to transport troops and combat equipment. These helicopters are able to fly reconnaissance (survey) missions, rescue troops and downed aircraft, guard areas on land, transport supplies to troops, and sometimes to fight combat missions. In 1939 Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation (named after the Russian-American inventor Igor Sikorsky) developed the first American helicopter capable of staying in the air.[4]

Recently due to global economic downturn, helicopter manufacture industry experienced some significant innovations. The FAA’s Air Traffic Organization switched on a network of ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) equipment mounted on oil platforms throughout the Gulf of Mexico, and helicopters throughout the area began automatically transmitting their GPS position to controllers at displays that look just like radar scopes. In a stroke, the helicopter community became the first to exploit the opportunities inherent in this new technology in a vast operational arena measuring 600,000 square miles, of which about half has active drilling. Operations in the Gulf instantly became safer and more efficient, and there is virtually no difference between air traffic management over that body of water, which spans about 1,000 miles at its widest point, and with the heritage radar system that covers the mainland.

The industry continued to battle in the political arena with the issue of noise sensitivity looming largest. At long last, the helicopter manufacturing industry is responding with new technology. Eurocopter is developing advances in Blue Edge, a main rotor blade with a newly shaped tip resembling a tern’s wing (as well as Westland’s BERP tip treatment), and Blue Pulse, which is comprised of small trailing edge surfaces that respond instantly to vortex disturbances from the preceding blade to reduce noise. Sikorsky has described a quiet mode that will be introduced with its new S-76D, now in flight test.

Accidents continued to plague the industry, especially the emergency medical services segment. EMS came in for special scrutiny by the NTSB, which determined on the basis of a special hearing that the economics of EMS as it is practiced in the real world must be part of any comprehensive safety management initiative. To perhaps over-simplify, a two-crew IFR twin-engine craft competes head to head with a single-pilot, single-engine VFR operator. The safer aircraft is bidding against the cheaper one. The tourism industry also had a spate of accidents. One high-visibility midair collision in New York harbor drew universal media attention, according to resent Business and Aviation report.[5] Cooler heads prevailed on the political front (thanks, Mayor Michael Bloomberg) and stakeholders sat down with the FAA to draw up a completely new structure for the low-altitude airspace over the water.

Emergency medical services (EMS) aircraft and crews can be credited with saving many lives. That fact underscores the trebling of EMS helicopters and airplanes over the past 10 years. Although originally operated by hospitals almost exclusively, EMS operators now include private for-profit companies with financial pressures to move patients. According to the U.S. General Accountability Office, the country’s civil EMS helicopter fleet ranges between 750 and 800 aircraft. Meanwhile, the FAA reports the number of medevac helicopters increases daily, with approximately 300,000 patients transported within them annually. An EMS aircraft takes off every 90 seconds in the United States, each time in support of the noble mission to alleviate human pain and suffering.[6]

The EMS helicopter’s mission tasking and operating environment can pose serious challenges. The mission can occur without notice at any hour of the day or night, in poor weather and low visibility, and usually with a single pilot. The physical environment can be adverse terrain or complex urban areas, and require landing and taking off from unimproved, confined areas surrounded by trees, wires and other obstacles, and without definitive weather reporting en route or at the destinations.

Moving along the report we will look at one expressive example of helicopter S-61 model by Sikorsky, which was used by various service forces including medical help. KLM, Helicopter Service of Norway and Britain’s Bristow Helicopters operated fleets of S-61s in support of offshore oil exploration efforts. In order to maximize aircraft utilization, these offshore operators became experts on how to maintain and modify the S-61. Charles Evans, who flew S-61Ns for Bristow in Singapore and Malaysia from 1972 to 1974, said his company developed many improvements for the aircraft, the most notable being a fuel dump system and an increase in gross weight to 20,500 pounds.[7]

Bristow also was involved in perhaps the largest helicopter rescue ever. On December 15, 1979, when a barge located about 85 miles northeast of Aberdeen, Scotland began to sink during a storm in the North Sea, 12 Bristow S-61s and an Aerospatiale Puma evacuated 527 men in 25 flights over six hours. Bristow pilots braved snow showers, wind gusts of up to 80 knots and a 500-foot ceiling to complete the mercy mission. The task was made even more difficult because the helicopters had to land backwards on the damaged barge to avoid an obstruction that blocked the normal approach to the helipad, which was being tossed about by waves of up to 40 feet.[8]

Back during the Korean war, U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service were flying similar helicopters, designated as H-5s, from land bases to pick up downed pilots, often behind enemy lines. Within months, Air Force helicopters joined the Marine choppers in rushing badly wounded leathernecks from frontline aid stations to field hospitals and later to Navy hospital ship offshore, sharply reducing delays in providing lifesaving medical care.

Back in 1951, US Navy helicopters also started to fly medevac missions, sparing seriously wounded soldiers punishing ambulance trips over Korea’s wretched roads. Between their rescues of downed airmen and isolated ground troops and flying ambulance missions, U.S. helicopters were credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during the war. “Few technical innovations were equal in importance to the growing use of the helicopter for medical evacuations” one Army history declared.[9] With the arrival of larger, more capable helicopters later in the conflict, the Marines and Army would demonstrate the usefulness of vertical lift aircraft in the tactical movement of troops and supplies – a role that would become the hallmark of another Asian war a decade later.

Helicopters made significant influence during the Marines’ advance to the Chosin Reservoir and their fighting withdrawal from the massive Chinese offensive, maintaining contact among the widely separated units. And they also continued flying medical supplies and critical materiel in and carrying casualties out of small landing spots in the narrow valleys of North Korea. Two more choppers were shot up and another pilot killed during that precarious withdrawal.[10]

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union sharply reduced the military impetus to advance rotorcraft capabilities, as exemplified by the cancellation of the Comanche. Recent combat experience is sharply focusing renewed emphasis on helicopter survivability, through passive and active measures. Sophisticated defensive-aids suites increasingly feature as a requisite for helicopters before being deployed into operational theaters. Alongside the “conventional” surface-to-air and small-arms threats, however, the rocket-propelled grenade has also emerged as a considerable risk.

In the U.S., the Joint Heavy Lift (JHL) helicopter is the only significant “big-ticket” procurement that could provide a launch platform for technology development. An initial round of Pentagon-funded study work saw Boeing consider an advanced tandem rotor and a quad tilt rotor- the latter in conjunction with Bell. Sikorsky looked at using elements of its X2 program for a contra rotating compound helicopter concept, and also a contra rotating heavy-lift crane. Karem Aircraft’s optimum-speed tilt rotor also gained study funding. The U.S. Army has a notional target of awarding a full development contract for the JHL in 2015.[11]

The unmanned revolution has not bypassed the rotary world. A raft of designs of various shapes and sizes is in various stages of development. However, UAV efforts have so far been fitful. The Pentagon’s unmanned combat-armed rotorcraft provided the potential for design innovation, until the program was axed.

4. Conclusion

The continued pattern accidents and incidents among helicopter EMS operators give support to the idea helicopters will continue its technological support for human operations in life-saving. Many foreign countries are experiencing growth in EMS helicopter operations. And it is in their particular interest to examine the U.S. experience in this field of research and development.[12] While providing EMS flight personnel with proper training and equipment will lessen the risks of operating in this very high-threat environment, improved safety hinges on the human factor that is the reaction to the pressure within and without to launch and complete these life-saving missions. Flying so others may live is a goal, not an obligation that discounts the lives of those who so aspire.

A century after Cornu’s first-“flight” ceiling of just under a foot, the distance the rotary world has traveled can perhaps best be measured by the 29,035-ft. Everest climb made by a Eurocopter Ecureuil in 2005. The next hundred years will no doubt bring its share of dizzying heights, disappointments and surprises. ‘Angels of mercy’ will continue their unquestionably significant flights despite any harsh circumstances.

Works Cited:

Barrie, Douglas. “Cornucopia”. Aviation Week & Space Technology, 11/12/2007, Vol. 167, Issue 19.

Fulghum, David A., Wall, Robert, Mathews, Neelam, Taverna, Michael A., Barrie, Douglas, Fiorino, Frances, Ott, James. “Airlift Suffers Problems”. Aviation Week & Space Technology. 1/10/2005, Vol. 162, Issue 2.

Goodspeed, Hill. “Whirlybirds over Korea”. Naval Aviation News, Nov/Dec 2007, Vol. 85 Issue 1, p. 30.

Jameson, Dale W. “When emergency care is up to you”. RN, April 07, Vol. 50 Issue 4, p. 26.

Kreisher, Otto. “Rise of the Helicopter”. Aviation History, January 2007, Vol. 17, Issue 3.

Searles, Robert A., “The Durable Sikorsky S-61”. Business & Commercial Aviation, February 2002, Vol. 88, Issue 2.

Solotaroff, Paul. “The Hole Where Sgt. Thorne’s Life Used to Be”. Rolling Stone, 5/4/2006, Issue 999.

Veillette, Patrick R., “Helicopter EMS: A Continuing Safety Failure”. Business & Commercial Aviation, August 2008, Vol. 103, Issue 2.