Search and Rescue (SAR)

Black Hawk helicopters, outfitted with the proper mission equipment, are capable of performing worldwide search and rescue (SAR) operations reports Skycore Aviation.  The SAR missions can occur anywhere – mountains, desert, over water, urban areas or the jungle.  Weather, distance, time of day and scenario are some of the factors that impact the need for specialized SAR equipment.

As part of a series of articles on how mission equipment influence the role of a UH-60 helicopter, Skycore provides an introduction into the variety of mission equipment used in search and rescue operations.

Forward-Looking Infrared Imagers

Black Hawk SAR helicopters typically have a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera mounted on the front of the airframe that senses infrared radiation (IR).  These cameras detect IR from a heat source (such as a person) and create an image of it on a video display in the cockpit.  This system enables an aircrew to see a heat source in low light situations, magnify it, and identify it against a colder background which would otherwise be invisible to the human eye, especially at night.   Additionally, the magnification also allows for identification from a distance improving safety and search productivity.

Forward-Looking Infrared Imager

A FLIR mounted camera.

Thermal image

Thermal images assist in search and rescue missions.

Night Vision Devices

The most common devices used by Black Hawk SAR crews at night are Night Vision Goggles (NVGs).  NVGs are a self-contained helmet mounted binocular device that amplifies light in both the visual and near infra-red bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.  They significantly improve night flying operations, reducing risk and improving mission success.  When used in conjunction with NVGs, an IR searchlight can provide additional “illumination” as needed.

Night Vision Goggles

NVGs commonly used in SAR missions.

Internal or External Hoist

A Black Hawk SAR priority is the ability to rescue people in areas where the helicopter can’t land.   The primary device for scenarios is the rescue hoist.  The hoist allows crew members to raise and lower personnel to and from the ground or other platform from a hovering Black Hawk.

Rescue hoists are mounted either externally to the airframe or internally to hard points within the cabin.  Both styles are widely used and each type has advantages and disadvantages.  Internal hoists are easier to install (modify the Black Hawk) and easily moved to other Black Hawks but take up valuable cabin space.  External hoists save cabin space but are more difficult install and move between aircraft.  Most hoists are rated for 600 lbs and can quickly lower and raise personnel.  Hoist equipment includes personnel harnesses, litters, seats and nets that can accommodate aircrew members and victims/patients, in various environments and levels of care.

external hoist

An external hoist lowers personnel during a search and rescue mission.

Fast Rope Insertion / Extraction System (FRIES)

The fast-rope insertion and extraction system (FRIES) enables the rapid deployment and retrieval of personnel in areas where helicopters can’t land.  Fast roping is the technique used to rapidly descend from a helicopter using a thick rope attached to the FRIES.  In a UH-60 Black Hawk, the FRIES is mounted to the interior upper frame of the cabin and the bars are extended outside of the cargo doors.  Crews descend on special braided (pleated) ropes attached to the bars.  Multiple crew members can slide down the rope at the same time and in less time than rappelling or using a hoist.    Additionally, the ropes may have integrated loops to allow personnel on the ground to “hook in” while wearing harnesses for an aerial extraction.


Fast-Rope Insertion and Extraction (FRIES)

Skycore Aviation is an international helicopter personnel services and UH-60 Black Hawk provider (  Our knowledge and experience enable Skycore to provide personnel and turnkey solutions for helicopter programs tailored to meet our customer’s operations, maintenance and training needs.  To stay atop of the rotary wing industry, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.