A gray-green helicopter hovers above a sun-bleached building, transforming layers of surrounding sand into an enveloping haze.
Below, Soldiers crouch, readying the injured for rapid transport to higher levels of care.
The desert combat scene seems at once familiar and treacherous; what is different this time is that the emergency medical evacuation is an exercise, designed by the U.S. Army to determine whether and how evacuating wounded warfighters more safely and quickly is a near-term possibility.
In the scenario, which is being carried out at Yuma Proving Ground, Arizona, as part of the Army’s Project Convergence 2021 modernization experiment, medevac helicopter pilots and medics on the ground are using state-of-the-art technologies to relay critical information and evacuate the wounded with utmost precision.
One of these technologies is the Medical Hands-Free Unified Broadcast (MEDHUB) system, a next-generation patient information network developed by the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Development Activity that allows medics on the ground to communicate more effectively with receiving medics and the military treatment facilities to which patients are flown.
MEDHUB utilizes wearable medical technology and wireless, iPad-like tablets to capture and transmit data ranging from patient vitals to estimated time to destination, enhancing communication for rescue teams and medical caregivers and closing gaps in the traditional medevac triage system.
“It reduces the amount of work that the medic has to do,” explained Shayne Russell, a system engineer working with the Army’s Combat Capabilities and Development Command Aviation and Missile Center, who is helping advise on MEDHUB testing,
MEDHUB “helps monitor the patients, so that they [the ground medics] can focus on the most critical patient at one time,” Russell said.
According to Russell, Soldier feedback on MEDHUB thus far is that it is “a very intuitive, easy-to-operate system.”
Another technology being tested at Project Convergence 2021 is a system developed by Vita Inclinata Technologies that stabilizers a litter, or rescue stretcher, and facilitates movement of rescue cable at a pace four times the normal rate.
The system, referred to by the Army as the Load Stability System Litter Attachment (LSS-LA), “allows a Soldier to be extracted out of the operational environment dynamically, more quickly and at less risk” said Jason Gerstner, a U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory field systems branch chief who is flying an HH-60M Black Hawk at Project Convergence 2021 as part of new medevac capabilities testing.
Using a mix of computer software, advanced hardware and electric turbine technology, the LSS-LA, a mobile and compact add-on to the standard lift, stabilizes the load, preventing the dangerous, erratic and at times deadly shifting, swinging and spinning that can occur during the hoist portion of complex medevac helicopter evacuations.
The technology has the potential to not only increase the rapidness of care but decrease fatalities caused by medevac accidents or operational complications such as severe weather and difficult terrain.
“With this hoist, it’s a lot safer for the patient,” said Spc. Shelby Williams, a medic with the 82nd Airborne who is participating in Project Convergence 2021 testing.
Developed by co-founders in their twenties, the invention was inspired by a tragic event, during which one of the company’s founders – then a 15-year-old search-and-rescue volunteer in Oregon – witnessed the inability of a medevac helicopter to drop a rescue kit to a friend in distress, who subsequently died.
Caleb Carr’s experience stuck with him, and in college he set out to find a solution to the problem of helicopter rescue kit instability, which is encountered by military and civilian emergency medical rescue teams. That is when he met his co-founder and Vita Inclinata’s chief technology officer, Derek Sikora, who helped make the technology vision a reality.
The first attempts at creating a device to stabilize the rescue process evolved into the sophisticated solution being piloted for the Army.
Sikora explained that the LSS-LA is “basically bringing aircraft stability to the point of load,” enabling anything on the line beneath the helicopter to be just as stable as the helicopter itself. The device, which functions autonomously, achieves stability by exerting small, calculated thrusts to counteract unwanted movement caused by wind or other complicating factors.
Bryce Anderson, a former Soldier and the current vice president of Army programs at Vita Inclinata, was also motivated to contribute to medevac improvements after learning of a fatal hoist accident, this one in Afghanistan.
Today, the improved system “works so much better than I ever imagined it could,” Anderson said.