All air ambulance helicopters in England and Wales are funded by charitable contribution, and the launch of Britain’s first Bell 429 featured no shortage of important people from the county of Wiltshire. Dignitaries included no fewer than ten mayors from various towns and Sarah Troughton, Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, the Queen’s official representative in the county (and incidentally, a cousin of the Queen).
Wiltshire Air Ambulance brought their new Bell 429 – and new corporate branding – to the historic Trafalgar Park. The location is a fine Grade 1 listed historic house built in 1733. Originally known as Standlynch Park, the name was changed in 1813 when Parliament voted to provide a suitable estate for the heirs of Admiral Lord Nelson and to commemorate the Battle of Trafalgar. The house and grounds were loaned for the day with the generosity of owner Michael Wade, who bought the estate in 1995.
The launch event on Friday 24th – complete with a large presentation tent – was funded by particular supporters including Bell. It was then followed on Monday 27th by an opportunity for air-to-air photography of the helicopter, some results of which are seen below.
The helicopter has been completed with an Aerolite medical interior, and shown for the first time at Helitech International in Amsterdam two weeks ago. It is the fourth Bell 429 in the UK, and the first to be operated on EMS work. The UK total for the type is expected to reach six before the end of the year – the fifth is already in country and being painted. Unusually for EMS operations, the decision was made to weld up the rear clam-shell doors on the Wiltshire aircraft. The paramedics consider the sliding door side access to be better as all the other emergency service agencies in the region are used to their side-access Explorer, the doorway width is much better than the Explorer, and it allows for a Trakkabeam A800 searchlight to be mounted under the tail boom to assist in night landings.
Wiltshire Air Ambulance have shared an MD Explorer with Wiltshire Police up to now, and the changes brought in by the (relatively) new National Police Air Service meant that the medics had to branch out on their own. Various options were explored and a decision made for the Bell 429.
Operations will start in full swing from 1st January, initially on a day-only basis. As one of two EMS units in the UK which shared a Police helicopter, Wiltshire have been unusual in already flying night operations from as far back as 2001, an operational profile which has only become more common in the last 12-18 months in the UK. There are sufficient challenges with the new operation – having a dedicated helicopter, a new helicopter type and using an operator with no EMS experience – that they will not go over to flying nights until April 2015. The shortfall during night hours will be made up by a rapid-response car until that time.
Two pilots have been recruited so far, both having flown the MD Explorer until recently – George Lawrence with the Wiltshire Police, while Nicky Smith joins from the Essex and Hertfordshire Air Ambulance – and is the country’s first and only (so far) female helicopter EMS pilot. Steven Judd has also been appointed as a pilot on the new helicopter, and will also be Group Chief Pilot for Wiltshire Air Ambulance and all other Heli Charter operations and joins on November 15. A fourth pilot will be appointed in early 2015.
The Bell 429’s ongoing weight problem could present Wiltshire Air Ambulance with some issues, although the charity are very relaxed about it. Analysis of the last 2,500 missions revealed an average base-to-base mission of 27 minutes, including flights from scene to the nearest trauma centre as required. [The three principal trauma centres are all outside Wiltshire – John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxfordshire, Southampton General Hospital in Hampshire, and the new Southmead Hospital in Avon]. While none of the 2,500 flights analysed would in themselves given rise to any weight problem, the potential for two flights back-to-back could do, and is the focus of further operational trials. Yes, that’s right, two round-trips averaging 27 minutes back-to-back without refuel could give Wiltshire Air Ambulance a problem. It appears less and less likely that EASA (or the FAA) will ever approve the 429 from 7,000lb AUW to the higher 7,500lb level approved by Canada and other countries. Read more about those issues here.
Jeremy Parkin – HeliHub.com
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