What a shock it was to walk up to the Eastern Aero Marine (EAM) booth at NBAA's (National Business Aviation Association) 2000 meeting and convention in New Orleans on October 10-12. Sitting in the booth were a pair of aviation life rafts unlike anything we've ever seen, or ever expected to see, from EAM. One single tube raft, one with double tubes, both with self-erecting canopies, ballast, substantially improved entry aids and other accoutrements we've come to expect on modern life rafts.
While EAM was unable to provide us with specifications, details or prices on these new "Alpha Series" rafts, the photos we took will give you a pretty good idea of what they are like. The rafts appear to borrow at least some from the two marine raft designs that EAM purchased a few years ago and currently produce (and which they declined to provide to us for testing in our recent life raft review).
Both 4-person rafts displayed were equipped with single arch self-erecting canopies using the traditional lightweight orange ripstop nylon material. Retro-reflective tape was fitted. The entry doors appear to use a 2-inch wide strip of Velcro surround on the interior as the sole closure. We were requested to not to unroll the door when we attempted to do so in order to examine the closure and take a photo. The single tube raft had a strip of reinforced metalisized reflective material surrounding the entry.
The new rafts are equipped with an interior boarding ladder at the primary boarding point and improved exterior boarding ladders of two different designs. They also showed what we were told was a photograph of a 10-person double tube raft with an inflatable boarding platform. A 14-person double tube raft is also apparently planned.
Vee shaped ballast bags, typical of many marine life rafts including their own, were fitted. They could not provide us with any ballast specifications. The single tube raft was fitted with a built-in inflatable floor with numerous reeds, the resulting floor looking something like a well tufted upholstered chair when inflated.
These rafts show considerable promise compared to the anachronisms that EAM has sold for so long. On the other hand, we must caution that there is a big difference between first impressions and actual performance, as we discovered to our dismay with Air Cruisers' new rafts which have some very serious, life threatening flaws that led to them earning our "not recommended" rating in the latest life raft review. If EAM ever relents and we get the opportunity to test these new EAM rafts, we'll be better able to provide a full assessment of their capabilities, but until then we are forced to remain somewhat skeptical based on our prior experience with EAM rafts and cannot make a recommendation at this time.
EAM also showed their new TSO'd continuos wear yoke-style "Bravo" life vest modeled after their USCG approved inflatable personal flotation devices. This is a single cell design, unfortunately. It is designed for self-service and an optional pouch is available with signal equipment included. As always, we'd welcome the opportunity to test this new vest, but cannot recommend it until we have done so.
Air Cruisers Co. was showing off a new 10-person TSO'd raft that appears aimed at those looking for something even smaller, lighter and/or less capable than their previously introduced 13-person raft. Tube sizes for this Type I raft were obviously far smaller than the oversize tubes on their 13-person raft.
The inflatable boarding ramp and interior boarding ladder have also been eliminated. Replacing them is a three rung ladder as used on the alternate boarding location on their other rafts and grab handles, one each on the exterior and interior midpoint of the upper tube and one on the foam insulated floor.
That insulated floor was covered in what appeared to be buoyancy tube material. In any case, that may go a long way towards addressing its abysmal performance in our tests where it was so easily damaged by the participants during our short tests sessions.
Air Cruisers also had an example of their latest 8-person raft for the Navy on display in its vacuum packaging. Air Cruisers' Director of Sales and Service, Lou Perdoni, said that this raft may itself eventually see service on the civilian side and that vacuum packing was also likely to see wider use in their corporate rafts in the future.
Pelican Products was showing off pre-production units of their first LED based flashlight. These small single LED lights will be available with white, red or green LEDs. The model 1930 Mini-LED is powered by four 1.5 volt alkaline button cells. Battery life was given at 100 hours. A rubber encased pushbutton switch in the tail serves for both momentary activation and as an on-off switch. While not submersible, we were told it will be "water resistant." The light comes with a neck lanyard with sliding bead and a pull-apart safety connector.
The light incorporates a reflector that proved, surprisingly, to be effective at brightening the beam, something we haven't seen before with LED lights which include their own internal reflector. We expect to receive production samples before long and will include them in our upcoming LED Flashlight Review. Expect pricing in the area of $10 to $15.
We had expected to see a working prototype of DME's auto-deploying 406 MHz ELT in Winslow LifeRaft Co.'s rafts, but all they had was a fit-check article in its new crush-resistant cylindrical configuration. DME's George Byer explained that late delivery of a critical part by an outside supplier had set back their schedule by approximately one month. They still expect certification around year's end, but we've become somewhat skeptical. In any case, Winslow is still providing loaner 406 ELTs (manually deployable) for those who require them in rafts delivered before the DME units are available.
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