Skycore Aviation has discussed FRIES in previous Black Hawk mission equipment articles. However in this article we’ll take a deep dive into FRIES to understand its beginnings, purpose, components, training and operators.
FRIES Beginnings & Purpose
FRIES is a mechanical system that uses thick ropes to allow small units of personnel to rapidly infiltrate (infil) and exfiltrate (exfil) confined areas by helicopter. It was developed by Marlow Ropes in conjunction with British special operations and was first used in combat during the Falklands War. Today it’s used by special operations forces, law enforcement and firefighters. The use of FRIES is normally restricted to situations where aircraft cannot land, when mission requirements preclude the need for large amounts of equipment, ammunition or heavy crew-served weapons.
The process of using the FRIES is called “fast roping” which is considerably quicker than traditional helicopter rappelling since personnel slide down the fast rope using only their gloved hands and feet to slow their descent. The speed of deployment is also much quicker because more than one person can be on the fast rope at a time. When rappelling, personnel wear a harness, are connected to a rappelling rope and are limited to one person rappelling at a time. Since FRIES is significantly faster, it reduces exposure time for personnel and aircraft.
Key Components of FRIES
In a Black Hawk, the FRIES bar is attached to the hard point beneath the main transmission in the aircraft cabin overhead and positioned near the center of the cargo door opening. From this location, the FRIES bar slides out, extending past the floor so personnel can deploy from both sides of the aircraft via cargo doors. This provides for fast rope operations from either side of the aircraft based upon mission needs. Its telescoping capability greatly reduces the physical footprint of the mount.
- The FRIES Bar Assembly includes a round support tube assembly that bolsters the extendable bars with a rope release / attachment assembly.
- A rope release handle is installed on both sides of the cargo compartment walls to release the rope from the FRIES support assembly bar.
The FRIES Fast Rope
Fast ropes are thick (typically 40-44 millimeters (1.6 in) diameter) to prevent it from being blown about from the rotor wash of the helicopter. The ropes are made from low stretch nylon fibers with an 8 braid (pleated) construction to reduce rope kinking and provide for fast, fully controlled, safe descents. The fast ropes are whipped and heat sealed on the bottom with 30,000 lbs. strength.
FRIES Personnel Gear
Heat-resistant, heavy leather gloves are required for fast-roping, to protect personnel from friction-generated heat during the decent. Often, a glove-inside-glove technique is used, with tactical gloves worn inside heavy leather metal working gloves. Helmets, protective clothing and goggles are typically included in personnel uniforms but are also vital for safety.
FRIES Training and Operations
Based on military policy, personnel must pass initial FRIES qualification training by performing a fast rope descent and lock-in from a tower at the 34- and 60-foot level and from a helicopter at 60 feet or higher. FRIES proficiency sustainment training must be completed 24 hours prior to any FRIES operation to be qualified as a FRIES roper. Sustainment training includes:
- Arm-and-hand signals
- Individual equipment riggings
- Aircraft familiarization
- Safety procedures
From a high level perspective, each FRIES operation is dependent on two (2) key personnel positions: Pilot in Command (PIC) and FRIES Master (FRM). Although other personnel such as Assistant FRIES Master, FRIES Safety, Crew Chief and the Air Mission Commander all have significant roles, our focus is the responsibilities and actions of the key positions.
For each FRIES operation, the FRM will:
- Brief members of his team and aircrew
- Inspect team members and equipment
- Install the FRIES rope in the aircraft
- Conduct safety checks
- Relay time warnings to team members
- Break chemlights, if required
The PIC is responsible for all aspects of flight and personnel briefings. Preflight briefing of the FRM, safety, and roping personnel includes:
- Approaching, loading, unloading, and departing the aircraft
- Actions in the aircraft
- Flight route and checkpoints en route
- Altitude or height for roping
- Possible emergencies
- Time warnings to FRM as needed
The PIC is also responsible to notify the crew to deploy ropes when the aircraft is over the intended objective.
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