The Israeli air force is to upgrade its fleet of Sikorsky CH-53 assault helicopters with a Rafael Armament Development Authority- developed external airbag system that will protect the aircraft, its crew and passengers in the event of a crash or hard landing.

Rafael's rotorcraft external airbag protection system consists of a series of standard-size airbags, the number and pattern of which can be scaled according to the size of the host helicopter. These are inflated when sensors trigger a pyrotechnic system after detecting a combination of altitude loss and ground proximity.

Rafael claims the airbag system will protect the crew and passengers of helicopters up to an impact velocity of around 50km/h (31mph). The development effort was launched following the mid-air collision of two Israeli air force CH-53 2000s in April 1997, which killed all 73 personnel aboard. In addition to preventing injuries, the airbag system will also "prevent irreparable damage to the rotorcraft structure and to installed equipment", says Rafael.

One CH-53 is currently being used as a prototype test platform, with the air force's first operational example to receive the system in 2006. Service sources have also confirmed that the system will be deployed on its Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopters.


Source: Flight International