Estimated reading time 6 minutes, 20 seconds.
In 2009, when Caleb Carr, co-founder of Vita Inclinata Technologies, was just 15 years old and serving in his first search-and-rescue training mission, he watched a friend go into cardiac arrest and die because he couldn’t be airlifted out.
That friend was a member of the same rescue team as Carr. He had been training the group on how to be efficient trackers under dense tree cover on Larch Mountain in the Columbia River Gorge.
“It was a surprise to everybody,” said Carr, now 26 and chief executive officer of Vita, a hardware solutions company headquartered in Denver, Colorado.
A medical team from the Oregon National Guard arrived 20 minutes later in a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk and tried to lower a basket through the trees to rescue Carr’s friend. However, the high winds caused the basket to sway wildly, making the rescue impossible.
“They called off the mission. And we called time of death,” he said.
Three years later, when Carr was a first-year undergrad at the University of Colorado, he told this story to a physics professor, who asked a simple question: “Why the hell don’t you fix it?”
That was the spark Carr needed to co-found Vita Inclinata with Derek Sikora, an engineer who is now the company’s executive vice-president of technology and chief technology officer.
“With that in mind, we continued to push forward to try and see if there was a solution,” said Carr. “And we went through four years of iterative failures, if you will, to try and make this a reality.”
A few years ago, they knew they were on to something when Sikora tried creating an autonomous system that could control the motion of all types of loads suspended below a helicopter. The system could be attached either to the load or to a cable five feet above the load. It used high-performance electric ducted fans to provide counter-thrust in the direction of the swing. As a result, the load would stabilize and become centered under the aircraft.
“When we came up with the idea, everybody said, ‘You’re crazy. That’s not gonna work,’ ” recalled Carr. But, a demonstration at Heli-Expo 2019 proved it could–at least for small loads of roughly 200 pounds (91 kilograms).
Vita engineers then spent the better part of a year developing a system that the company said will eventually control loads of up to 20,000 pounds under a Sikorsky Black Hawk.
These capabilities will be showcased in a product demonstration on Tuesday, Jan. 28, at Heli-Expo 2020 in Anaheim, California.
Vita’s overriding goal is to save lives, and ensure no one else suffers the same fate as Carr’s friend.
“We build technology that brings people home every time,” said Carr. “And everybody that’s come to Vita basically comes to work for that particular mission.”
It’s been a whirlwind year for the company. With flight tests on four different helicopters, and a crane for the commercial application, Carr’s long-held dream has now become a viable solution.
Testing the Load Stability System (LSS), however, was just the beginning.
The company is on track to double its workforce in the first quarter of 2020. This is a group filled with young aerospace innovators who come from big tech firms like Uber and Microsoft–with whom Carr has worked–as well as NASA.
Additionally, Vita has contracts to deliver its LSS to the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing, the 101st Rescue Squadron of the New York Air National Guard, and multiple other squadrons throughout the U.S. military, including with the Colorado National Guard.
“The resounding demand for the LSS, combined with the willingness of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory to do all the certification necessary, ensures that we will make the system a reality,” said Renee Owen, chief marketing officer.
And, in the final moments of 2019, Carr and Sikora saw their solution become a product. In fact, at Heli-Expo 2020, Vita’s teams will be flying demos of two innovative new products from its LSS suite.
Ultimately, Carr wants to see Vita deploy systems throughout the entire U.S. military and with its allies. The company also plans to expand into oil-and-gas operations and other civil opportunities, both inside and outside aerospace.
“There’s a copious amount of other problems and other solutions that can be built,” said Carr. “We just acquired an aerospace accelerator for early stage startups to do just that. And, we will continue to roll that out as we continue to expand our operations over the coming years.”
For now, Heli-Expo 2020 marks the latest milestone for Vita: the first public unveiling of the revamped LSS, which can stabilize massive payloads and ultimately save lives. The company will also launch an Early Adopter Program for those who want this technology on their helicopters in 2020.
The tragedy that inspired Carr to create Vita years ago continues to motivate him today. The path from a dream to a solution to a product has not been easy.
“There’s been plenty of times where I’ve wanted to give up,” he said. “But it’s the mission set. It’s meeting the aviators. It’s meeting the crews that have experienced the same problem that I have–that makes it all worthwhile.”