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Search and Rescue

One of the strengths of aerial assets for search and rescue (SAR) is the ability to operate without regard to surface stability.

Immediately following an avalanche or mudslide the ground is too unstable for SAR ground personnel. However, the timing to search for survivors is paramount so waiting for the ground to stabilize is usually not an option.

Drones are useful for searching and imaging, but are not large enough to physically rescue a victim. Helicopters are usually too large, and their recirculating downwash makes working around them at low altitude extremely hazardous.

The problem is there is not a single procurement effort to develop or purchase a purpose-built aerial SAR platform. Each agency has its own budget with which they purchase existing aircraft developed mostly for military missions. Those budgets are rarely pooled.

Consider that in the US the Coast Guard is the leader in SAR operations, assisting an average of 114 people per day at a total cost of $680 million annually. The National Park Service is also heavily involved in SAR operations, logging over 4,000 incidents at a cost of almost $5 million per year.  The average cost to power their helicopters is common, at about $1,600 per hour.

A purpose-built aerial SAR platform could reduce costs dramatically. If sized for the mission, and made intuitive to fly, the craft could be transported by ground and deployed from a trailer. Pilots would not need the extensive training required of helicopters, and refueling could be performed on-site rather than having to return to an airport.

The issue is not how much we spend on SAR missions – they are essential, but rather how we spend that money.

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