In the UK’s Lake District National Park, an average of 15-20 leg or hand-break incidents occur every week, and these will soon be handled by paramedics in Gravity Industries Jet Suits.
The GNAAS (Great North Air Ambulance Service) operates an air ambulance service in the north of England, including using helicopters to approach people who sometimes fall in hard-to-reach places. However, aircraft cannot reach everywhere, and in many cases pilots can only land a plane up to a kilometre from the scene of an accident, which needs a flat surface to land safely. In addition, there are not always enough helicopters available, which are mainly sent to rescue the more seriously injured. Paramedics therefore often have to reach patients on foot, carrying tens of kilos of equipment over often steeply sloping paths.
One of the organisation’s members, Andy Mawson, came up with the idea a few years ago, which could potentially make the situation easier and allow a much quicker getaway in any circumstances: he believes the solution could be to use a jetpack when working in difficult terrain.
To test the viability of this new form of transport, GNAAS approached Gravity Industries, whose founder Richard Browning regularly flies the device in various demonstrations. Browning personally tested the Jet Suit in a simulated accident in September 2020 in the Cumbria region of England, and the results showed that the Jet Suit could be a really useful tool for rescuers, especially on steep gradients. However, some details still need to be worked out, such as how paramedics can carry medical equipment while using this new form of transport, which is not an easy task given that the Jet Suit takes up both hands of the user and leaves no room for cargo on the back. The solution is to have containers strapped to the legs or chest, which can carry over ten kilos of medical equipment.
The other obstacle is that flying and balancing with a rocket backpack requires special training, but some of the organisation’s paramedics have not shied away from the challenge and training of personnel to use the device has already begun, with Andy Mawson having completed training and completed his first free flight and two more paramedics soon to be certified to fly, according to GNAAS. Gravity Industries has also since developed the rocket backpack, which is now produced entirely using 3D printing technology.
The next step will be field testing and deployment in live situations, starting in the summer in the UK’s Lake District National Park.
“The next step […] will bring the paramedics’ flying skills to a level where it will be possible to assess real operational experience – and real help will arrive in the form of Jet Suit paramedics in the Lake District.” – GNAAS announced on 22 March.
According to Mawson, the current 25-30 minutes it takes for air ambulances to reach the injured can be reduced to one and a half minutes with the rocket backpack, and the device also provides a cost-effective way to transport them.
“We monitor calls from mountain rescue teams, so we see a lot of people on our control panel screens who are injured, probably scared and in a lot of pain, but don’t fall into the category of requiring urgent care – that’s where the idea for the Jet Suit actually came from. ” said Mawson at the GNAAS Business Club meeting last February, “The jet backpack is a very cost-effective way to get a paramedic up to the top of a mountain to provide immediate assistance to someone who has broken an ankle or arm.”