A collaboration between Gravity Industries, which has developed and patented a 1050 brake horsepower Jet Suit, and the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS), has resulted in a test flight in the heart of the Lakes.
The test at the Langdale Pikes saw Gravity Industries founder and Chief Test Pilot Richard Browning fly from the valley bottom to a simulated casualty site on The Band, near Bowfell. The simulated casualty site would take around 25 minutes to reach by foot. The Gravity Jet Suit is able to cover that distance in 90 seconds, opening a range of possibilities in the emergency response arena.
The equipment allows a highly qualified paramedic to get to the patient’s side, not getting the patient to the hospital. The concept is similar to a paramedic on a motorbike - the paramedic can either treat the person on the scene and discharge them or they can arrange the appropriate ongoing care. In the Lake District, any incident like this is already a multi-agency response, so mountain rescue will respond and we could pass information to them to give them better information about how they should respond and what kit they need.
The suit has a capacity of carrying about 10-15kg which is the weight of one full rucksack which we use currently, allowing us to carry kit including a defibrillator and patient monitoring. The kit would be placed in pouches accessible on the pilot’s legs and chest.
According to GNAAS, the paramedic could be in the suit in about 30-45 seconds. The mark 3 suit which is the one Gravity envisages working in this environment is a single button start which takes about 10 seconds. So all in all, even in slow time, the pilot could be in the suit ready to be airborne within a minute and a half to two minutes!
The jet suit is covered under general aviation within the CAA, therefor there is no requirement for a formal license to fly it. Built into the helmet is a display that in it current form shows engine parameters and speed. GNAAS intents to build the ability to add waypoints to that display for the paramedic to follow. "If this project develops as we hope, we will work with Gravity to design a very robust flight training system to ensure that the paramedics are fully competent. It’s also important to remember that the flight up the side of a hill is at relatively slow speeds and close to the ground so that is a big mitigation to any safety risks," GNAAS stated.
Andy Mawson, director of operations and paramedic at GNAAS, identified the Lakes as a possible location for a Jet Suit paramedic after hearing of Mr. Browning’s work and then studying the charity’s own call-out data. “It showed dozens of patients every month within the complex but relatively small geographical footprint of the Lakes. We could see the need. What we didn’t know for sure is how this would work in practice. Well, we’ve seen it now and it is, quite honestly, awesome.”
Mawson said the exercise had demonstrated the huge potential of utilising Jet Suits to deliver critical care services. “In a time in healthcare when we are exhausted with COVID and its effects, it’s important to still push the boundaries. Our aircraft will remain a vital part of the emergency response in this terrain, as will the fantastic mountain rescue teams. But this is about looking at supplementing those resources with something completely new. We think this technology could enable our team to reach some patients much quicker than ever before. In many cases this would ease the patient’s suffering. In some cases, it would save their lives.”
Browning added: “It was wonderful to be invited to explore the capabilities of the Gravity Jet Suit in an emergency response simulation and work alongside the team at GNAAS. We are just scratching the surface in terms of what is possible to achieve with our technology. Emergency response is one of the areas Gravity are actively pursuing, alongside launching a new commercial training location at the world-renowned Goodwood Estate.”
With the test complete, GNAAS and Gravity Industries are now exploring the next steps in this collaboration. At present, they are still waiting on financial details and logistical resources before they can reach operational status.