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Helitracking harnesses mobile mesh networking to connect helicopter rescue teams

goTenna Mesh and Helitracking
goTenna Mesh and Helitracking
Helitracking Co-founder, Thibaud, dangling in mid-air from a helicopter during a rescue operation.

In 2018, French app designer David Arneau created a mobile app called Helitracking, a control and command communication system designed for helicopter rescue missions. The purpose of Helitracking was to give any team member of a Helicopter rescue mission, from the pilot to any ground units involved, the ability to communicate with one another during rescue operations.

The Helitracking app originally relied on a GSM 2G/3G/4G network to operate and whenever conducting a rescue operation in a remote or cell-denied area, rescue team members were forced to communicate via voice radios. This was unpractical, as the external noise from the helicopter would often interfere with the radio transmissions. David needed a way that his users could comfortably communicate in cell-denied areas.

Rescue personnel in a helicopter right before a rescue operation.

Since rescue missions involving helicopters only require about 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) worth of short-burst range to communicate between the helicopter and rescue ground team, David decided to try out goTenna Mesh.

David performing primary testing with the goTenna Mesh V1 in 2017-2018.

David started by integrating Helitracking with the goTenna Software Developer (SDK), a software kit 
to build mesh-enabled mobile apps for goTenna Mesh and goTenna Pro. By doing so, he was able to create a way in which users could “push” messages out to others during a rescue mission through the Helitracking app.

Next, David had to test his newly integrated Helitracking app with a real-time search and rescue team. He downloaded the Helitracking app with goTenna’s SDK on every team member’s phone. He then connected goTenna Mesh devices to personal smartphones so they’d be able to communicate throughout the mission in dead zones.

A helicopter rescue team member wears the Helitracking app on his arm and a goTenna Mesh device on his left shoulder.

The first mission was a success – all team members were able to successfully send chats back and forth over their goTenna-run mesh network via Helitracking. Since this first test, David has distributed the SDK-integrated Helitracking communication system and goTenna Mesh devices to over 50 different helicopters, giving rescue personnel the ability to:

  • Stay connected and broadcast messages with up to four team members at a time
  • Automatically save important messages with key information
  • Transmit messages anywhere in the world 
  • Send and receive position updates
  • Review chat history for post-mission reporting

goTenna Mesh is a fairly stable and a unique product. I could not find anything similar to goTenna – David Arneau, Helitracking app designer.

With the combination of Helitracking with goTenna’s SDK and goTenna Mesh, Helitracking has successfully assisted in hundreds of rescue missions. 

  • The max range achieved between two users during a given mission was 1 km (.62 miles). 
  • During a recent city-based test, two users standing 2 km (1.24 miles) apart were able to transmit messages, but it was not very stable.
Helitracking Founder and Co-founder, David and Thibaud.

David is currently interested in looking into testing out the goTenna Pro X for further range.