Planning on getting lost at sea? Try to wait a few years.
The U.S. Coast Guard is in the process of installing new emergency beacon locators on all of its aircraft. The new DF-430-F electronic director finder, made by Rockwell Collins, can pick up emergency signals from 60 mi away, a huge improvement over older systems that required rescue aircraft to be within a few miles of stranded sailors.
So far, the new gear has helped save 18 lives, the Coast Guard said. It’s already installed on some of the service’s Lockheed Martin C-130H fleet, and over the next five years it will make its way onto all of the Coast Guard’s aviation assets.
"It’s really cutting hours off the search and rescue case," said the Coast Guard’s acquisition czar, Rear Adm. Gary Blore. "If you’re treading water, that could be the difference between life and death."
The new locators pick up signals from 406 MHz emergency beacons, which are used by about 150,000 vessels in U.S. waters. The beacons, activated by salt or water, emit very weak signals that often could only be tracked by satellites, which require several passes to determine a precise location. With the new DF-430 gear, search aircraft can track the signals over much longer distances.
Deployment schedules call for the Coast Guard’s Eurocopter HH-65Cs to get the new locators through 2010; the Sikorsky Aircraft MH-60T Jayhawks will get the gear between this year and 2012. The Coast Guard also plans to upgrade its entire fixed-wing fleet, and it may even adapt the gear for shipboard use. — Rebecca Christie