Bristow to trial Unmanned systems to help with SAR

Bristow to trial Unmanned systems to help with SAR

26-Feb-2020 Source:

At the Helicopter Investor conference in London yesterday, Russ Torbet – the Director of UK SAR at Bristow Helicopters – gave an interesting presentation on how their long-term UK SAR contract was working in practice, and provided an insight of what lies ahead. The contract was launched in a ceremony on 26th February 2015, and sees Bristow flying 10 Sikorsky S92s and 11 Leonardo AW189s under contract to the Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA), part of the UK Government’s Dept for Transport.

The contract calls for 98% availability, and in 2019 a figure of over 99% was achieved. Torbet admitted that when he was Station Commander at RAF Lossiemouth, the Royal Air Force SAR helicopter base there only ever achieved around 75% availability.

The presentation also detailed that the team required for a single SAR base consists of 9 pilots, 5 winch operators, 5 winchmen and 10 engineers. Admin support headcount was not provided, despite being part of the overall team.

As Bristow looks ahead, the paperwork for the next contract period will start to come out from the Dept for Transport later this year, with Invitations to Tender following next year and so on. The company – currently going through the machinations of merging with Era Aviation – is looking to how the next UK SAR contract may pan out, and what could differentiate them from other potential bidders.

Torbet told the conference that Bristow are working with Schiebel and will soon be launching trials with two S-100 Camcopters from the SAR base at Caernarfon in North Wales. This project will look at splitting a typical SAR mission into two parts – with the UAS engaged up front for the Search, and then bringing in a helicopter for the Rescue. Torbet quoted a figure of 25% of their SAR airborne time being used in the Search aspect of the mission, and by replacing an S92 or AW189 with the much smaller S-100 Camcopter in that role, cost savings could be made and crews would be less fatigued in what is often a gruelling environment.

We would expect that the response time to get a UAS airborne would be a lot shorter than either of the Leonardo AW189 or the Sikorsky S92 helicopters, to there could also be advantages to be leveraged in finding the casualty quicker and making an earlier scene assessment in preparation for the arrival of the helicopter. expects that the trial would also look at the effective operational radius of the Camcopter in the SAR role, the types of call-out that do (or do not) warrant UAS use, and how to calculate the delay time after launching the UAS to determine when the helicopter should follow. Other possibilities include whether to co-locate UAS at the helicopter bases, or whether faster response could be achieved by putting UAS facilties midway between helicopter bases, or a combination of both. Consideration would need to be given to the handling of airspace conflicts between, say, UAS and student fixed-wing pilots from a local airfield. We await an update from the operator in due course.

Bristow currently has two Schiebel S-100 Camcopter UAS registered in their name with the UK CAA, appropriately G-UASA and G-UASB. The image used with this story is an illustrative one with a S-100 Camcopter equipped with an EO/IR turret which we believe would be similar to the setup Bristow might consider using.

Jeremy Parkin –


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