U.S. Special Forces often deploy on dangerous missions by sliding down a rope from a hovering helicopter, but run the risk of either burning their gloved hands from the friction or hurting themselves by descending too fast and hitting the ground hard. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory wants to change that by offering a $15,000 prize to innovators who can find a better solution.
Problem-solvers must create a device — added to or replacing a glove — that has enough grip on a "FAST" rope for a controlled descent by someone weighing 300 to 400 pounds with gear. It must also somehow dissipate the heat that builds up from the friction between glove and rope, and allow Special Forces operators, soldiers or Marines to fire their weapon as soon as they touch the ground.
Existing leather gloves used for fast-roping often don't have enough friction to slow the descent of military personnel. Many operators even wear two pairs of gloves for fast-roping, but then must waste time on the ground removing one pair of the super-heated gloves.
The challenge summary, posted on a crowd-sourcing website called Innocentive, suggests choices such as a device that attaches to one or both gloves, separate attachment devices, or modification of the 2-inch-thick FAST rope that is typically 50-to-90-feet long. Any solution must also allow many operators to be able to use the rope at the same time.
For bonus points, the system should be cheap enough to throw away during a mission, and must also work on a rope as small as a quarter-inch thick. Problem-solvers must submit their proposals by Dec. 17, 2011.
Need for such a solution remains great as long as the U.S. military continues small, surgical operations aimed at taking down terrorists and suppressing insurgents. The U.S. Navy Seals who killed Osama bin Laden had originally planned to fast-rope into the former al-Qaida leader's compound — at least until the first helicopter ran into problems.