Search and Rescue

One of the strengths of aerial assets for search and rescue (SAR) is the ability to operate regardless of surface stability. At sea, or immediately following an avalanche or mudslide the surface is too unstable for SAR ground personnel.

Drones are useful for searching, but are not large enough for rescue. Helicopters are sometimes too large, as their recirculating downwash makes working around them at low altitude extremely hazardous.

The impediment to a purpose-built aerial SAR platform is the lack of a single procurement effort to develop it. 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, 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 procure the assets.