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Bold Thinkers: Creating The World's First Helicopter Ejection Seat

Jonathan Palombo Photography

Today we're excited to launch our new series: Bold Thinkers. Every month, we'll interview a company creating groundbreaking products in aviation.

Rotor Floater

Rotor Floater is an aviation startup paving the way for something that's never been done before: helicopter ejection seats.

We had the chance to speak with Rotor Floater's CEO, Sean Maday, about the pioneering technology that's making helicopters safer. We also discussed the significant challenges they've faced throughout the development process of their product, the Helicopter Ejection System (H.E.S.).

CEO Sean Maday presents the H.E.S. at Heli-Expo 2015

The Downward Ejection Problem

Ejection seat technology made incredible strides starting in the 1970s. Aircraft that had limitations for vertical ejection, like the B-52, ejected two of the crew downward through the floor of the aircraft.

The B-52's downward ejection system doesn't work for helicopters

But while that solution works well at high altitudes, it doesn't work for helicopters flying at low altitudes, especially below 500 feet AGL.

Overcoming Rotor Timing

It's obvious the most challenging part of a vertical ejection from a helicopter is getting the ejection seat through the rotors without hitting them. That's where Rotor Floater made some incredible strides.

"This is a problem that the aviation industry just hasn't been able to solve." said Maday. "We knew that timing an ejection seat through a full speed rotor blade wasn't practical, so we came up with a way to slow the rotor down."

Rotor Floater developed a specialized gear box that slows the helicopter's rotor blade to allow the ejection seat to safely pass through. And to ensure minimum exposure to the blades, the specially designed ejection seat achieves a maximum velocity of Mach 19 - fast enough to pass through the blades in 0.002 seconds. "That speed is a little hard on the pilots, but helicopter pilots are a tough bunch, so we figure they can handle it."

Success Rate Better Than The Weatherman

Rotor Floater's technology is getting safer with each test. We wanted to know what kind of success rate Rotor Floater was having with the new seat, so we asked.

"In our recent tests, we achieved a 72% successful ejection rate using crash dummies" said Maday. "The gear box timing is proving to be quite tricky, but if I was a weatherman or baseball player, a 72% success rate would be phenomenal, so I'm feeling pretty good."

Volunteers Needed

Maday says that once they reach an 80% success rate, they'll be looking for volunteer pilots to try out the system. "I'm a little surprised that we've had such a hard time recruiting people to try this ground-breaking technology" said Maday. "I'd volunteer myself, but I need to run the slow-motion cameras."

Maday said his business partner was the first and only person to try the ejection system so far, but "his eagerness and optimism led to an unfortunate accident." "But I wouldn't worry too much about that, our success rate has improved over 13% since his ejection attempt."

Increasing Market Appeal

We asked Maday what industry leaders thought of the system, and he told us that they are "definitely warming to the idea." "They want a 99% success rate though, and that's pretty steep in my opinion."

Finally, Maday added that he's invited leaders from every major helicopter manufacturer to personally try the system for free. "Unfortunately, I haven't gotten any calls back, but I think they're just arguing over who gets to try the ejection seat first."

We asked Maday if he had any final thoughts on the future of Rotor Floater's H.E.S. system: "Yeah, April Fools."



Colin Cutler

Colin is a Boldmethod co-founder, pilot and graphic artist. He's been a flight instructor at the University of North Dakota, an airline pilot on the CRJ-200, and has directed development of numerous commercial and military training systems. You can reach him at colin@boldmethod.com.

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