Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Av 5761 - August 8, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Observations: Airbags for Helicopters
by A. Yechiel

RAFAEL, the IDF military equipment manufacturer, is developing a system of large airbags designed to protect helicopter passengers and crew members during collisions and crash landings or rough landings. Since the helicopter tragedy of 1997 in which 73 soldiers were killed, scientists, primarily aeronautical engineers, have been working hard to find a way to protect the lives of helicopter passengers in the event of a mishap.

The invention -- a system of folded airbags located inside special cargo holds on the underside of the passenger compartment at points that absorb the greatest impact -- is currently in the testing phase. The system is engaged by sensors designed to detect when the helicopter is approaching the ground too rapidly, and to activate airbags which inflate within a fraction of a second using compressed air, just like airbags installed in cars. According to initial estimates, the invention can prevent injury and death in almost every type of crash (with the exception of midair explosions), but in order for the airbags to serve their function, pilots must keep the helicopter parallel to the ground.

RAFAEL says the new system is still in the development stage and it will be a long time before it can be sold to helicopter manufacturers and operators. One of the central problems the developers have encountered is that the system loads additional weight onto the helicopter, a type of aircraft that is particularly sensitive to surplus weight.

Four months ago a secret and unconventional test was performed to check the results of the new helicopter airbags: an obsolete helicopter carrying dummies was released in midair and, an instant before the expected crash, the airbags inflated and absorbed the shock. The conclusion was that had real people been aboard, they would not have been injured.

The scientists called the test results "encouraging" and a second test is being planned for the near future, this time using a Yas'ur model, one of the biggest helicopters in the world.


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