Industry voice: Solutions to the dangerous effects of hoist cable swing
David Reineke, Kyle Nguyen, Luyi Tang and Mary Lanzerotti at Virginia Tech, and Walter Lacarbonara at Sapienza University of Rome develop and test a new method to reduce and remove the hazard of unwanted hoist swing by making use of changes in angle and angular velocity
Stabilizing helicopter payloads during medical evacuation rescues can be a challenging task due to the swinging or more complex conical motion of the patient. Hoist cable swing can have dangerous effects including loss of payload, contacting the side of the helicopter, and increasing time for search and rescues. The goal is to reduce the oscillations of the swing – like a pendulum – to be able to swiftly and safely raise the patient from the hoisting location and into the helicopter, so that they can then be transported to a medical facility as quickly as possible.
Helicopter hoist and winch training for search and rescue (SAR) and medical evacuation (medevac) is offered by many organizations using traditional methods and techniques. Some firms manufacture and supply equipment for safe hoisting as well as hoist training, such as Breeze-Eastern, which offers in-house hoist maintenance training at its facility in Whippany, New Jersey. Others specialize in operational training, like Air Rescue Systems, Priority 1 Air Rescue, and SR3 Rescue Concepts. Most of the US military medevac training occurs at Fort Novosel (formerly known as Fort Rucker) in Alabama for pilots, hoist operators (crew chiefs), and hoist riders (paramedics), with paramedics also receiving specialized training at Fort Sam in Houston, Texas. And there are companies that offer fully integrated haptic virtual training, like Bluedrop Simulation & Training. There are also companies that provide unique solutions to cable swing and spin, such as Vita Inclinata, whose Vita Rescue System Litter Attachment is affixed to the payload with cinch straps and quick clips, and uses two propulsion systems and a thrust vector system to directly control the movement of a litter.
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A recent study has demonstrated that it is possible to achieve two-dimensional stabilization and even explore a three-dimensional solution by assuming a steady hover over the patient. This method involves precisely varying the length of the payload line according to the line’s motion and specific constraints, drawing on principles of pendulum nonlinear dynamics. The practical application of this method involves accurately measuring the angle and swing of the payload and then directly controlling the length of the line. The physics behind the payload control is shortening the line when the payload is slowest near its highest point in the swing. The line can also be extended when the payload is near the bottom of the swing. With the help of a low size, weight (<0.5kg), and power automated stabilization system on the payload that can be enabled and disabled with the flick of a switch at the hoist, this approach holds promise for medical evacuation rescues.
Ian Azeredo, Chief Engineer at Breeze-Eastern, explained how this will affect the community: “What this means ... is a future non-invasive means of controlling hoist reel-in without significant input control from the hoist operator. Or a good tool for training for dynamic hoisting motions.”
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The system design for the device and test results were presented at the Third International Nonlinear Dynamics Conference (NODYCON 2023) on 19 June 2023, and the team’s paper will be published in the conference proceedings. User data are input into the system and a gyroscope sends angle and angular velocity data to an Arduino Uno, which sends a pulse width modulation (PWM) signal via Bluetooth to the motor controller to drive the motor. The motor mount holds the winch and the motor, and the Arduino Uno microcontroller powers the system by a connected battery pack.
David Creech, CEO of Vertical Lift Consulting, stated: “Cable swing and conical rotation (oscillation) are very real hazards during helicopter rescue hoist operations.
“While proper training instills both proactive and reactive measures aimed at preventing a catastrophic event, there is always the potential for the rapid escalation of cable movement beyond the manual control abilities of the hoist operator.
“An automated hoist stabilization method – such as proposed by Mary Lanzerotti and her team at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute – would not only be very effective as a reactive measure for less experienced hoist operators, but also as a proactive/preventative measure for hoist operators of all skill levels.”
The next stage for this novel design will be to further test the method of action with longer lines and in outdoor environments. Rozzy Finn, Licensing Officer at Virginia Tech Innovation and Partnerships, stated: “I see great potential for the hoist stabilization system designed by the team; it’s an elegant idea that has great potential to save lives once deployed. I look forward to helping to commercialize this technology, and I’m excited to see it deployed.”
David Reineke graduated from Virginia Tech in December 2022 with a Bachelor’s degree in Controls, Robotics and Autonomy from the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Kyle Nguyen graduated from Virginia Tech in May 2023 with a Bachelor’s degree in Networking and Cybersecurity from the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Luyi Tang graduated from Virginia Tech in December 2022 with a Bachelor’s degree in Controls, Robotics and Autonomy from the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Mary Lanzerotti is a Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Bradley Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia). She received an AB summa cum laude from Harvard College (Cambridge, MA), MPhil from University of Cambridge (UK), and MS and PhD from Cornell University (Ithaca, NY).
Walter Lacarbonara is a Professor of Nonlinear Dynamics at Sapienza University and the Director of the Sapienza Center for Dynamics. During his graduate education he was awarded a MS in Structural Engineering (Sapienza University) and a MS in Engineering Mechanics (Virginia Tech, USA), and a PhD in Structural Engineering. His research interests cover nonlinear dynamics; vibration control; metamaterials; nanocomposites; asymptotic techniques; experimental dynamics. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Nonlinear Dynamics. He served as Chair of the ASME TC MSND, Co-Chair of the ASME 2013 (Portland) and 2015 (Boston) IDETC Conferences, and Chair of NODYCON in 2019, 2021, 2023 (www.nodycon.org).Current solutionsA novel approachCurrent progressThe future for the design