The demands on an air ambulance and crew are intense, so it is essential to have an aircraft that can meet the day-to-day challenges of running our service...

The larger cabin size in the AW169 gives us the capability to carry additional clinicians, thereby improving the range and level of care a patient can receive in transit. Procedures that may once have taken place on the ground can now take place in flight, saving valuable time and the chance of life. Because of the increased fuel and power capability, the crew can also travel from one incident to another rather than returning to base to re-fuel, meaning that more patients can be reached than ever before.

During daylight hours, we operate as a single-pilot operation, but all the doctors and critical care practitioners (CCPs) are trained as technical crew members (TCMs) and will assist the pilot from the front left-hand seat with cockpit duties on the way to an incident. This includes helping with navigation, reading out heights, speeds and rates of descent, as well as aiding the pilot’s general awareness; everything a co-pilot would do, except actually fly. For us, this method of working has proved more efficient than employing two pilots, as once we land at the scene, the TCM is on hand to assist with any clinical interventions the patient may need and are also able to assist the other member of the clinical team in the cabin when transporting the patient to hospital.

Night HEMS

Embarking on night HEMS missions meant that we were able to increase our operating hours to 19 hours a day (7.00am - 2.00am). When we are tasked during the hours of darkness, our crew spend more time planning the mission due to hazards that might be present, such as power lines or masts, which could be difficult to see. They view computer images of possible landing sites, however, because the images could be out of date, or variables such as livestock may be present when the helicopter arrives on scene, a minimum of two possible locations (primary and secondary) are chosen and closely examined in advance.

The team wear night vision goggles during the hours of darkness. These look like a pair of ordinary binoculars and are worn in  conjunction with a specially adapted helmet, which has a battery pack attached. Two image-intensifying tubes amplify the available light and project pictures onto the small screens inside the goggles. These enable the crew to see what is going on outside, even in almost complete darkness. They are mounted an inch or so away from the eyes, so the crew are able to look beneath them and see the instrument panel. Flying with goggles allows the team to see other aircraft, roads, rivers and railways, which helps with navigation and they give a great view of the horizon, which helps with orientation. They also enable the crew to orientate themselves on scene, rather than struggling in the darkness.

At night, an extra CCP joins the team and acts as a TCM throughout, as CAA regulations stipulate that the front left seat should always be occupied by a second crew member during the hours of darkness. They can, however, also assist at scene if required.

NEXT: Bridging the gap