Winner Tim Lyons, One Atmosphere.

Floaties for choppers

Helicopters sink. Quickly. Not any more.

The West Australian inventor of a helicopter buoyancy device that inflates within a second, and is built to a lightweight, bolt-on/bolt-off design, has been awarded the Defence Science and Technology Organisation Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia.

Engineer and ex-Navy diver Tim Lyons from One Atmosphere developed the Pegasus Aircraft Buoyancy System (ABS): an emergency buoyancy system designed to save lives following a helicopter crash at sea.

When a helicopter hits the water, the crew are more at risk from drowning in the fast-sinking craft than from injuries caused by the crash itself.

Previous emergency helicopter flotation devices required the pilot to maintain control and activate airbags manually after impact—a tough ask of a pilot who’s just crashed, and whose cockpit is filling with seawater. Instead, the Pegasus activates automatically.

The airbags inflate incredibly quickly on crashing—inflating to full volume in under a second. This keeps the cockpit properly oriented and held above the waves, so that pilot and passengers can escape. Inflation systems this fast have previously proven too unwieldy and heavy for everyday use, but Tim used an innovative gas-supply system to remove the need for heavy gas cylinders.

Pegasus was designed for the Army’s new fleet of Tiger helicopters, which will be spending more time flying over sea now that the Navy is building two huge helicopter ships. However the bolt-on/bolt-off device can be easily adapted for other craft.

“This technology will not only safeguard defence-force lives,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said. “The technology can also be fitted in police, search-and-rescue, tourism and private craft, and on helicopters servicing offshore oil rigs.”

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.

Watch Tim's YouTube video

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