Forissier, a French company specialising in cables, has decided to invest outside its core business and develop a "recovery basket" which can be used to rescue several people at one time by helicopter.
The basket was patented by an officer in the French Groupement d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale (GIGN) - the equivalent of the UK SAS. The decision follows two years of discussions with the French army, which has been testing the equipment.
Until now, helicopter recovery and evacuation of people has been painfully slow: a rescuer descends from the helicopter and rescues one person at a time.
But the Forissier recovery basket makes it possible to rescue up to 10 people in one go, without endangering the life of the rescuer. The basket can even accommodate stretchers and medical equipment.
The basket, which is folded like an upside-down umbrella and attached to a 25m rope, is dropped from the helicopter and opens automatically when the rope tightens, in less than 10 seconds.
Once the basket is open, people can get on it and attach themselves using the belts fixed to the central pole.
The helicopter then flies up and transports the basket to a secure place where the people who have been rescued can get off the basket.
It can then go back to rescue more people if needed. It takes only a minute for two operators to fold the basket away.
The basket can be used in extreme situations, where a helicopter cannot land to take passengers, for example in mountains, at sea, at the top of a building; or in hostile situations, where speed is paramount.
The current model, which is 1.5m high and weights 43kg, was designed for the Aerospatiale Super Puma helicopter, which is large enough to carry it. Forissier is working on a smaller model, with only three spokes, which could be used on smaller helicopters.
The current model is already stable on water thanks to the air contained in its structure, but a customised version with inflatable tanks for sea rescue is being developed.
The French army recently ran successful trials up to the limits of the helicopter - 10 people at 200km/h, and then performed a demonstration at the recent G8 meeting. Expect the army to do it again in two years' time at the next Paris Air Show, once the basket has been adopted by the armed forces.
The French army is currently finalising certification and production should start at the end of June. Forissier believes potential markets include the military, with whom the first prototypes have been designed, as well as civilian agencies or companies: mountain or sea rescue organisations, fire-fighters and oil platform operators. Already contact has been made with Russian army officials, who will visit the stand at the show on Friday 20 June.
Source: Flight Daily News