Unit Chief Pilot Mario Carretta gives us an update on the aircraft, night operations, lighting and training...


Pegasus has now flown more than 1,000 hours in the two-year period it has been with us. At the time of writing, it has been taken to Specialist Aviation Services headquarters in Gloucestershire for a period of maintenance. While Pegasus is away, we will maintain
our helicopter service with the MD902 Explorer.

One distinctive feature of the Explorer (which we are often asked about) is that is doesn’t have a conventional tail rotor to maintain directional control, instead it is fitted with a NOTAR (NO TAil Rotor) system. The Explorer uses a main gearbox-driven ducted fan within
the helicopter’s body and air is then vented through the side and end of the tail boom to get the desired control.

During routine flying, a NOTAR helicopter handles just the same as one fitted with a tail rotor. It is quiet and smooth in flight; the latter being very important when carrying patients.

Excitingly, while in Gloucestershire, Pegasus is also being upgraded to match the latest versions of the AW169 coming off the Leonardo production line. One of the changes is extremely relevant to our role, as it will significantly reduce the time it takes to start the aircraft, by speeding up the time taken for the two main computers to come online.

Having received an emergency call, we aim to get airborne in the shortest time that is safely possible; currently this stands at four minutes and this will reduce to less than three. One minute may not sound a lot to most people, but it is to the patients who are waiting for us to arrive.

The upgrade will also improve our ability to navigate in poor weather using the Global Navigation Satellite System as a reference; it is hoped that this capability will pave the way for us to eventually make approaches direct to hospitals in poor weather.
We have now taken the Bear Paws (see last edition of Beeline) off Pegasus for the summer months as the ground hardens and so our wheels are less likely to sink in. The current system requires the undercarriage to be fixed down, but this slightly restricts the maximum speed and increases the fuel burn. However, Leonardo is currently working on an improved system that will allow the undercarriage to be raised with Bear Paws on and we are View from the cockpit hoping to have this version fitted to the aircraft as we approach the winter.

Night Operations

Our new airfield lighting system at Henstridge is now fully operational. Even when wearing night vision goggles, it can sometimes be difficult to pick out the airfield and our helipad among the lights that surround the area. We now have the hangar flood, helipad and runway lights available to us for take-off and landing, via a radio-controlled switch, which makes it very easy to pick out our aiming point. Having been kept busy during the hours of darkness, I can see us making full use of this improved capability in the months and years to come.


As well as carrying out their primary role, our doctors and practitioners are trained to assist the pilot with cockpit duties in both helicopter types. After an intensive series of ground lectures on aviation subjects ranging from meteorology to navigation, they then receive airborne training before carrying out a check ride in the helicopter. To remain current, they carry out annual refresher training plus a day and night check ride in each of the aircraft.

The refresher training is based around a mandated annual requirement for crew resource management (CRM) training. CRM is defined as the effective use of all available resources for flight crew personnel, to ensure a safe and efficient operation – so it is key to what we do in the air.

We also try to broaden the team’s aviation knowledge and recently had a visit from a police drone operator. We often see them when we go to road incidents, so it is useful to further understand their capabilities and confirm deconfliction measures when the helicopter and