Leonardo DRS to the Rescue 500 Miles at Sea

Leonardo DRS to the Rescue 500 Miles at Sea

September 20, 2017 -- Leonardo DRS contributed expertise and support of airborne mission networking equipment to a daring rescue by U.S. Air Force personnel of two German nationals whose sailboat had caught fire 500 nautical miles off the coast of Florida.

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DRS to the RescueThe surveillance equipment vital to the rescue, the Leonardo DRS Information Superiority suite, was installed under a U.S. Air Force contract with IAP Worldwide Services, Inc. 

The expertise came in the form of Leonrdo DRS Airborne and Intelligence Systems employees Richard Strickland and Mark Creager. Strickland, an advanced program engineer, works out of the 39th Rescue Squadron at Patrick AFB, Fla., and serves as a reservist in that unit. Strickland operated the company's Information Superiority suite, which contains several communication systems that proved critical to the success of the mission.

Creager, another advanced program engineer, served as a navigator on one of the rescue aircraft. He trouble-shot a faulty amplifier, allowing his air crew to re-establish communication with their home station.

The operation took about 10 hours. An HC-130 Combat King aircraft, one of two on the mission, carried six Air Force Guardian Angel rescuers who parachuted into the ocean to save the sailors, a 66-year-old man and his 48-year-old son. The Guardian Angels, an elite team that specializes, like the aircraft, in combat search and rescue, train year-round for such missions.

The aircraft also carried an inflatable boat, known as a Rigging Alternative Method Zodiac, which opens after a drop by parachute from the rear of an HC-130. Two HH-60 helicopters flew to the site to pick up the Guardian Angels and the sailors and transport them to a hospital in Orlando, Florida. The son sustained burns on his legs. The father was severely dehydrated. Each helicopter was refueled three times during the mission by the HC-130s.

A situational awareness data link in the Leonardo DRS Information Superiority suite was used for coordination and real-time position data of the two rescue helicopters. Another feature of the suite, a dedicated high performance waveform radio, provided beyond-line-of-sight email capability, keeping the Guardian Angels, the crews of the four aircraft, and medical personnel on shore in constant touch with one another throughout the mission.

Strickland summed up the operation this way: "Six guys jumped out of an airplane and into the ocean more than 500 miles from land. Two helicopter crews flew all the way out to pick them up. Passing information was critical to the success of the mission. Beyond-line-of-sight communication provided by the Leonardo DRS Information Superiority suite was the tool for the job. More than a dozen people thanked me the following day. It's incredibly rewarding to see a team of professionals come together and do what they do best.  I'm humbled to be a part of that team."

Photos: One of the HC-130P/N "King" fixed-wing combat rescue aircraft (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes) and Airmen from the 920th Rescue Wing (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark Borosch).