10 Uses of Helicopters and Drones in a Crisis

helicopter load lifting in a crisis

Current events through the UK and the World have got us thinking about applications of helicopters and drones in times of crisis. Our day to day use of helicopters and drones on a film set is only a small part of what both assets can achieve in times of trouble. Here is look at ten of those uses:

  1. Medevac – getting the sick and vulnerable to hospital quickly. This is a helicopter task, and our machines with seats removed lend themselves to serve as medical evacuation transport. Drone technology is not yet suitable to lift human beings and transport by air, but there are companies working on it. One of our twin engine helicopters G-CMRA used to be a medevac helicopter in the US before joining the Aerial Film Company fleet.
  2. Supply drops – getting medical kit, food supplies and protective equipment to the front line in any crisis is essential. Helicopters can deliver kit exactly where it needs to be without the need for an airport. In areas where landing a helicopter is not possible, then drones will have their place as payload and battery capacity increases.
  3. Communication – With the current Coronavirus pandemic, the use of drones has been critical in relaying messages quickly to people on the streets and in their homes. Helicopters have also been deployed to relay messages from the government for people to stay at home and help contain the virus.
  4. Firefighting – In a fire crisis helicopters can be deployed with “bambi buckets” to drop water and fire retardant on areas that are alight. The amount of water or fire retardant that can be lifted beneath a helicopter depends on the helicopter type. For the H125 that we operate it can lift one tonne underslung load on a long line.
  5. Aerial Survey – both drones and helicopters can be used to track events unfolding on the ground in the event of a crisis. For example when the earthquake tragically struck Haiti in 2010, helicopters offered an aerial perspective on the extent of damage on the ground as well as an effective means to get help to communities that had been cut off by road damage, flooding etc. Due to their portability and rapid deployment, drones are being playing an ever increasing role in disasters.
  6. Rescue/ Evacuation – helicopters equipped with winch equipment are able to lift stranded persons and animals trapped by fire, floods or any other natural phenomenon. Larger helicopters are often used for this task especially out at sea where weather conditions require a more substantial helicopter to counter strong winds and in addition offer greater endurance to operate further offshore.
  7. Thermal Sensing – In situations where persons are likely to be buried in a landslide or collapsed building for example both drones and helicopters can be fitted with thermal imaging cameras that seek out body heat in amongst the rubble. Acting rather like a metal detector the camera can spot a heat signature from the air and help guide rescue teams on the ground to quickly rescue trapped persons.
  8. Personnel and equipment insertion – From the moment that a natural disaster occurs, to commencing a rescue operation, time is absolutely critical. Rescue teams arrive at the nearest operational airport by fixed wing aircraft and need to get to the epicentre of the disaster as soon as humanly possible. Usually roads have been damaged, and so the only way to get rescue teams and their equipment to the disaster area is by air. Helicopters are able to operate into remote locations close to the epicentre very easily and quickly.
  9. Aerial Reporting – Localised natural disasters need to be brought to the attention of the global media quickly and effectively to kick start relief efforts and funding. News reporters are frequently flown over the location of a disaster area to bring that situation to a global public quickly through TV, radio and the internet. Drone technology allows very quick deployment in a disaster zone to obtain initial images, with the helicopter following up using higher quality camera equipment and a reporter on board to commentate from overhead the scene.
  10. Progress mapping – helicopter and drone crews are essential in determining future path of a natural phenomenon likely to continue causing danger to the public and their property in the days ahead. A forest fire for example raging in the mountains, fanned by a wind towards an urban area could quickly consume property and people. Helicopters and drones can help track changes in direction and ensure early warning systems are kept up to date to keep people out of danger.