Paramedics in Jet Suits Could Improve Rapid Response Times

Coming soon to skies near you

  • Paramedics in the UK are training to respond to emergencies in difficult-to-reach places with the help of a jet suit.
  • UK’s Lake District hopes to deploy jet pack paramedics in the field later this year.
  • Paramedics elsewhere like the rapid response promise of the jet suit, but also expressed some reservations.
Paramedic using the Gravity Industries jet suit

Great North Air Ambulance Service

Not all superheroes wear capes, some just take to the skies with jet suits.

Paramedics with the Great North Air Ambulance Service (GNAAS) are training with jet suits to reach and tend to medical emergencies in the UK's Lake District faster than ever before. Other paramedics Lifewire spoke to are excited at the development but equally apprehensive of its usefulness in real emergencies.

"I think that in areas of rough terrain or extended response times by ground, it could be very beneficial," Christopher Hammett, Firefighter Paramedic at the Pinellas Park Fire Department in Florida, told Lifewire over WhatsApp. "A single or dual response by jetpack does seem far-fetched, but could make the difference in early stabilization and life-saving interventions."

Flying Start

The jet suit used in the GNAAS trial was designed by Gravity Industries, founded by British inventor Richard Browning, who not only created the portable flying machine but was also its chief test pilot. In 2019, Browning broke his own speed record by flying the jet suit at over 85 mph.

Not long after, GNAAS signed up with Gravity to experiment strapping the jet suits onto paramedics in order to cut down the time it takes to deliver emergency care to patients in hard to access areas in the Lake District.

After numerous delays due to the unprecedented circumstances over the last couple of years, one paramedic has completed their first free flight, safely operating the jet suit unassisted, and will soon be joined by others, according to GNAAS.

"The next stage, looking to commence in the summer, will bring paramedics' flight skills to a level where real operational experience can be assessed, and real assistance will arrive via jet suit paramedics in the Lake District," reads the press release.

In the time since the first trials in 2020, Gravity claims it has made several refinements to the suit. In their latest incarnation, the jets in the suits have more powerful turbine engines that start faster, and the suit itself is now fully 3D-printed in polypropylene, which makes it more maneuverable.

It consists of five engines, two on each arm and one on the back. This allows the pilot to control their movement simply by moving their hands. The helmet has a heads-up display as well, which displays engine parameters and speed. 

"Our intention is to build the ability to add waypoints to that display for the paramedic to follow," notes the suit's official FAQ.

Fly by Night?

The suit can carry equipment weighing up to 33 lbs, which would allow paramedics to carry essentials such as a defibrillator and patient monitoring equipment. 

But based on his experience as an Extended Care Paramedic at St. John Ambulance Service in Hamilton, New Zealand, Pranay Nayak (Registration Number: 771048) remains skeptical about the usefulness of a paramedic in a jet suit. 

paramedic using a jet suit to fly over a field

Great North Air Ambulance Service

Nayak, who works as a single crew response unit, told Lifewire over Facebook Messenger that he operates from a Holden Commodore station wagon, and because he doesn't have room for all the equipment he needs as a first responder, his colleagues are designing a Toyota Highlander version to allow him to carry more gear.

"I used to work in the helicopter and still ran out of gear [sometimes]. Key to effective patient outcome is rapid response, quick stabilization, and rapid transport to medical facilities, and I don't think the jet pack will meet the last two criteria," opined Nayak.

Tom Worthington, an independent educational technology consultant, thinks the whole idea is bunkum. "[A] one person drone might be more useful. The paramedic could strap the patient in and have it fly them to safety, then return empty [for the paramedic]," Worthington wrote on Twitter.

Hammett isn't so dismissive of the concept but stressed that in any rescue situation, crew safety is of utmost concern, and he wouldn't consider using the jet packs until he's absolutely sure that the response in these jet packs would be as safe as possible.  

"Rapid transport of a patient would be a challenge, but it seems to already be a challenge to get responders to the patient [in difficult to reach places]," said Hammett. "At least this could get a first responder to the patient to perform initial care quickly."

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