Sustaining something into the future sometimes means starting over with something new.
The Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis have led the way in air-medical transport helicopter service in Illinois since 1981, and together, OSF HealthCare’s Life Flight (based out of Peoria) and Lifeline (based out of Rockford) services combine to be one of the premier flight programs in the United States.
These programs are 24-hour services with teams of physicians, nurses, pilots and mechanics averaging 2,200 patient transfers each year, making them a part of the busiest aero-medical operation in the State of Illinois.
A few years ago, the OSF Aviation team realized it would be coming to a crossroads with its fleet. The four Bell 230s they were using were more than a dozen years old, and although they were good, dependable helicopters, they were no longer being manufactured, and parts and maintenance support were starting to become an issue. Technology had also improved to the point that OSF Aviation began a thoughtful and strategic approach to finding replacements.
In July, OSF Aviation launched a new fleet of Life Flight and Lifeline medical air ambulances. There are four helicopters in all, two based in Peoria and one each in Peru and Rockford. The new helicopters are EC145s manufactured by American Eurocopter. Each has the capability of holding up to two patients and four others, including the pilot and medical team members, compared to the Bell 230s, which could hold four adults, including crew. With the hot weather in the summer, the Bell 230s weren’t powerful enough to carry a big load, so the pilot would have to adjust according to weather and patient weight.
The EC145’s performance, versatility and range provide multi-mission capabilities in a medium-class, twin-engine helicopter. The safety features of the aircraft, including high-set main and tail rotors, and the large cabin and rear-loading clamshell doors, have made it the helicopter of choice for a large number of EMS programs in the United States and worldwide.
“We knew that the EC145 would provide us with the extra range and the power to carry extra weight when needed,” says Brent Grady, OSF Aviation executive director. “With the additional space offered by the EC145’s cabin, this allows us the capabilities to fly team flights, carry isolettes, and dual patients if the mission requires.”
Some of the key safety features in the new fleet include:
- Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS). Allows OSF to fly more precise GPS approaches into approved heliports and airports. The single-pilot instrument flight rules configured aircraft allow OSF pilots to fly when other helicopters can’t, since they are able to fly in clouds without relying on visual reference points.
- Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System. Lets pilots know if they are too close to the ground or other obstructions are close.
- Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS). Allows pilots to see other air traffic in the area.
- Up-to-the-minute satellite weather information and Storm Scope. Indicates lightning strikes in the immediate area.
- Sky Connect Satellite Tracking System. Allows aircraft to be tracked at all times while in flight by a flight communication specialist. Calls can be routed through a satellite phone if necessary.
- Night vision goggles and super night scanner search lights. Allow crew to see more clearly when flying at night or when there are low light levels.
While a new fleet was necessary to enhance and ensure patient and crew safety and protect the future of this vital, lifesaving service, financial sustainability of the program is important, too. OSF Aviation is leasing these new helicopters, sustaining its investment well into the future. iBi