04 December 2007

Ultralight Pilots Needed: Quicker, More Economic Disaster Relief

The seeds of Mr. Lishman's invention were sown in 1998, when he watched news coverage of the relief efforts that followed Hurricane Mitch, a sluggish storm that stalled over Central America, killing nearly 11,000 people and leaving more than 8,000 missing. Mr. Lishman noted that it took weeks to get supplies to some areas that were accessible only by air. GlobeandMail
Disaster rescue and relief is expensive work. Remote areas often lack landing strips for large supply craft, and helicopters are incredibly expensive to own, operate, and maintain.
Mr. Lishman is on to a new project - a tiny, skeletal aircraft he hopes will revolutionize the business of disaster relief. Mr. Lishman wants to pack more than a dozen of the little planes into a container that can be flown to areas such as Sudan's Darfur region, where they could be deployed like mechanized hornets, buzzing to hard-hit sites with loads of food and medical supplies.

...Mr. Lishman quickly saw that the helicopter had some key drawbacks when it came to disaster relief. Getting them to the scene was a problem; helicopters are too slow to fly over very long distances, and are too large and complex to break down and pack inside an airplane. They are also extremely costly. The least expensive helicopter on the market (the two-seat Robinson R22) goes for more than $225,000. Most helicopters cost far more.

Helicopters also demand constant, expensive maintenance and a highly skilled pilot. In Canada, a Robinson R22 rents for about $400 an hour, including the pilot, while a larger helicopter, such as the popular Bell JetRanger, costs about $1,000 an hour.

...The rescue trike's key feature is its simplicity: It can be built for little more than the price of a mid-size car, maintained by a shade-tree mechanic, and packed into a box for easy transport. Mr. Lishman said at least 15 of the machines can be loaded into a transport plane, packed inside a steel container.

The transport plane would serve as a delivery system for the Air First Aid team. After landing at the nearest available airstrip, the rescue trikes would be unloaded and assembled. If necessary, the container they arrived in could serve as a shelter for the pilots. The fleet of the ultralights would be loaded with supplies and then head for the disaster scene, guided by an inexpensive GPS unit.

I like the idea. It makes sense on many levels, and In fact, I wouldn't mind flying one of these "trikes" in a relief situation. The biggest drawback is the weather limitations that ultralight aircraft must necessarily respect.

Although these rescue trikes are not supposed to be thought of as "toys," I am putting this post in the "Adventure Toys" category just for the fun of it.

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Blogger Audacious Epigone said...


I'm not sure I'd want to venture over the Sudan in one of these things, though. Talk about a sitting duck...

Thursday, 06 December, 2007  
Blogger al fin said...

True. In a free-fire zone, ultralights make easy targets.

To make Darfur safe for relief efforts, you must first send an army of grobyCs into Khartoum to eliminate anyone driving a Mercedes or living in opulent luxury.

A similar approach to Iran might also do wonders for world peace.

Friday, 07 December, 2007  

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