Navy diver turns expertise into life-saving device

Published: 
8 April 2016

The top three pieces of advice ex-Navy diver turned innovator Tim Lyons would give aspiring entrepreneurs on intellectual property (IP) would be: get yourself a good patent attorney early, make sure you have solid Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) in place before talking to anyone about your ideas and apply for provisional patents while you get your ‘ducks in a row’.

Tim is the Managing Director of Tasmanian-based company One Atmosphere and the primary designer of the Pegasus Aircraft Buoyancy System (ABS) - a detachable, emergency flotation system for rotary-wing aircraft, fitted with inflation technology that uprights ditched or submerged craft, in order to give crew more time to escape.

Pegasus gets $4m in funding In March, the Minister for Defence Marise Payne announced the Australian Government would invest a further $4 million in Tim’s product with an aim of incorporating the system ‘to ensure the safety of its Australian Defence Force (ADF) members’. Total federal funding for Pegasus stands at $7.8 million.

Tim explains the monies will fund the development of a Pegasus interface specific to the Tiger Armed Reconnaissance Helicopters (ARH) used by the ADF. The interface will be developed with another Australian-based company, Airbus Group Australia Pacific, which provide and maintain helicopters for the ADF, including the Tiger ARH.

Development process was intensive

He describes the development process as ‘intensive, with lots of design work involved so as not to appreciably affect the aerodynamics and weight of the machine’. Tim says the Pegasus system is concurrently undergoing airworthiness certification with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) so the system may be used by civil craft. A separate system of certification will occur with the ADF.

The Pegasus appears to be flying high, but as with many innovations, especially the hi-tech and military variety, its flight to market readiness has been long and not altogether free of turbulence.

Tim has been with the same patent attorney firm since he started researching his idea. He admits he didn’t really have a thorough knowledge of the different types of IP protection available to Australian innovators, although he ‘felt fairly sure what he was [working on] was going to be worth protecting’.

He used the Internet to google intellectual property advice. However, he soon realised he needed professional guidance.

Tim was advised to protect technical efficacy of innovation 

According to Tim his patent attorneys advised that he needed to quickly protect the technical efficacy of Pegasus. He applied for a provisional patent.

Tim explained this application gave him 12 months of IP protection while he got his prototype and further research in order.

He adds that before approaching domestic engineering groups to help produce his prototype, Tim made sure he had rock solid NDAs in place.

After securing his provisional patent, Tim applied through the international patent system, the PCT, and sought patent protection in areas including the US, Europe, Japan, Israel and Russia.

Like most people with military experience, Tim appears to like things done quickly and with operational precision. He mentions that he thinks the patent process in Australia could be sped up in comparison with other countries. He notes Russia as a good example.

He explained the ADF has been sensitive to One Atmosphere’s IP rights. It has worked with Tim to ensure that any company it does business with has the proper IP protection in place, so there are no access issues for them using the technology.

Technical know-how helped

Tim explains that his former life as a navy clearance diver, disarming ordnance underwater, provided him with the technical know-how to develop the Pegasus.

Pegasus is not the first marine emergency flotation system. There have been other flotation devices that prevent ditched aircraft from sinking and help save the lives of crew and loss of valuable aviation hardware.

However, most of these floatation systems have generally been designed to be permanently fitted to craft, and as such, are heavy, which reduces marine copters’ capability and performance, and prove redundant when helicopters are not performing operations over water.

The difference with Pegasus is that Tim’s device is lightweight, designed to be temporarily fitted to helicopters and inflate flotation bags with gas immediately upon impact after a helicopter has ditched (controlled landing) into the water. Pegasus is also a post-crash device (where a controlled landing on water has not occurred) and remains operable following significant impact events.

‘As most helicopters have a high centre of gravity, due to the positioning of the englne, transmission and rotor hub, the inflated inflatable buoyancy bags tend to cause the aircraft to overturn and sit upside down in the water. ‘This presents disorientation problems to the submerged crew and passengers [trying to escape the helicopter] and increases the difficulty for rescuing the crew and passengers.’

In contrast, Pegasus uses an innovative gas-supply system replacing the need for heavy gas cylinders and positions the airframe to more easily enable escape.

Although the Pegasus ABS can service military helicopters including the Tiger ARH and the Sea Hawk, Tim has previously explained that the innovation was partly a response to a number of deaths related to helicopter accidents in the United Kingdom, particularly involved in servicing oil and gas exploration companies in the North Sea.

The Pegasus has been well received to date. In 2014, the system won the Woodside Oil and Gas Encouragement Award. Also in 2014, Pegasus won the Defence, Science and Technology Eureka Prize for Outstanding Science in Safeguarding Australia and the 2014 WAToday Telstra Innovator of the Year Award. One Atmosphere has confirmed that it is also working on other buoyancy technology that can be used conversely to raise heavy objects from the seabed and to fit other sea-going craft such as submarines.

 

 

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