Three of the most sophisticated and safest medical helicopters in the world now call Utah home.
High-Tech Aircraft are Among the Most Sophisticated and Safe Medical Helicopters in the World
SALT LAKE CITY – Three of the most sophisticated and safest medical helicopters in the world now call Utah home.
The Intermountain Life Flight program, one of the nation’s first air medical transport and rescue services, has added three state-of-the-art Agusta Grand helicopters to its fleet to enhance safety, precision and maneuverability in the rescue and transportation of critically-ill and severely-injured patients throughout the Intermountain West.
The high-performance helicopters are specially designed for high-altitude flying in the Swiss Alps — the same challenging terrain and climate found in Utah. They feature the newest safety technology including: complete digital cockpit display, twin-engine power, retractable landing gear, a state-of-the-art collision avoidance system, and “Highway in the Sky” technology that significantly enhances pilot navigation. The new aircraft also provide more space for Life Flight medical personnel to care for patients.
Intermountain Life Flight is the only air ambulance service in the Intermountain West with nurses specially trained to care for infants and children. It is also the first and only civilian air ambulance service in the nation to perform hoist rescues.
Life Flight is an important part of the trauma program at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, and the trauma system in Utah. As a Level I Trauma Center that serves the entire Intermountain West, Intermountain Medical Center treats the most critically-ill and severely-injured patients. Life Flight also serves pediatric trauma patients at Primary Children’s Medical Center. With these new aircraft, Life Flight will be able to reach patients more quickly, efficiently and safely than ever before.
“Helicopters save lives — and these helicopters fly a little bit higher and a little bit faster and have a little more room,” added nurse practitioner Bill Duehlmeir of the Intermountain Medical Center Trauma Program. “I hope no one here ever has to ride in one of these things, but if you do, we’re going to be there for you quickly and efficiently.”
Pilots say the Agusta Grand helicopters are like “computers with rotor blades,” including a digital cockpit display that replaces the hundreds of dials and knobs standard in most helicopters. Many features are new to air medical transport in Utah, including full autopilot capability and instruments that enable navigation during times of low visibility.
Most importantly, the new helicopters allow crews to provide better care for critically ill or injured patients.
“We'll be able to reach more patients and do it more quickly, safely, and reliably — even in challenging conditions. We’ll also have room to carry additional equipment so we’ll be able to provide more intensive care while we’re in the air,” says William Butts, Life Flight aviation operations director.
Some Agusta Grand Highlights:
• Twin engines assure more power and maneuverability in Utah’s challenging terrain and climate; the system also provides a backup in the unlikely event that one engine fails.
• Retractable landing gear makes the helicopter more aerodynamic, fuel efficient, and faster.
• Top speed of 193 mph shaves precious minutes off patient-transport time. For example, the Grand can make the trip to Rock Springs, Wyo., about 15 percent faster than Life Flight's former helicopters.
• Larger crew space allows nurses and paramedics to easily reach their patient and medical equipment. Life Flight helicopter crews will be able to carry sophisticated equipment like ventilators, heart-assist devices, and incubators for newborns that won’t fit in other helicopters.
• Collision avoidance system warns the pilot of other aircraft in the vicinity.
• “Highway in the Sky” technology creates a flight path the pilot can follow on a cockpit screen like a video game during times of low visibility.
• Instrument Flight Rules certification. The Grands carry all the necessary instruments to fly in low- or no-visibility conditions, and all Life Flight pilots are certified for IFR; the Life Flight program is considering obtaining FAA designation as an IFR operation. If that occurs, Life Flight will be able to pick up patients when other helicopters are grounded by poor weather.
• Full autopilot and hover hold technology reduces physical strain on the pilot and gives him the ability to easily check a map or weather conditions.
• Digital instruments replace analog technology in the all-glass cockpit. This allows the pilot to focus on flying, not on performing mental calculations about airspeed, fuel use, flight path, and more.
• High-altitude search and rescue. Life Flight will continue its active role in local search and rescue operations.
• Hoist rescue capabilities. This will enhance Life Flight’s ability to continue as the only civilian helicopter operator to conduct hoist rescues.
One of the new Agusta Grands is the first medical helicopter to be based at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George. Two other Grands will replace the Bell 407 helicopters based at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray and Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo. A fourth Grand is expected next fall and will be based at Salt Lake City International Airport.
Since its launch in 1978, Life Flight has transported over 62,000 critically ill or injured people more than 9.6 million miles. Currently, Life Flight averages 10-15 patient transports a day, of which half are children.
“Life Flight is one of the premier air transport systems in the country, and one of the oldest,” said David Grauer, Administrator of Intermountain Medical Center. “We’re very proud of these aircraft and very proud of our role as a Level I trauma center. Life Flight is important to all of us in Utah and in the Intermountain region, and it’s a resource we’re pleased to offer to the entire community.”