The 2nd annual ADAC HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) Academy networking event for EC145 and EC145 T2 operators took place September 5-6 at the Bonn-Hangelar airfield near the city of Bonn in northern Germany.
The ADAC HEMS Academy, established in July 2009, was formed to help integrate the training of aircrew and medical specialists who fly together on HEMS missions. The training center comprises a simulator hall and media equipped training rooms for individual, computer-based and group sessions for pilots, doctors and paramedics. The simulator hall has EC135 and EC145 full flight simulators (FFS Level A to JAR-FSTD H). There is also a Christopher Sim medical simulator and trauma room training facility.
Talking about the reasons behind the establishment of the event, Thomas Gassmann, the academy’s director of business development and sales, stated that “in the rapidly evolving role for small helicopters in HEMS, law enforcement, offshore energy and VIP transportation, the clustering of knowledge becomes paramount in order to ensure the best training for pilots and crews.”
The networking event this year brought together flight operations managers and heads of training from EC145 operators spread over 15 countries, mostly from Europe but also from places like Australia, Japan and Brazil.
The first day began with a night vision goggle/night vision imaging system (NVG/NVIS) European status update with individual presentations from five operators: ADAC-Germany, HDM-Germany, Rega-Switzerland, INAER-Spain and the U.S. Army Falcon Team – JMRC from Hohenfels/Germany.
Largely operators discussed their different approaches to NVG use in terms of crew composition, training, and infrastructure limitations or enhancements. Said Gassmann: “The variety of different angles being employed to reach the same goal was astonishing, even impressing the most experienced of operators present.”
DRF Luftrettung is a large rotorcraft operator with an extensive fleet of rotary and fixed-wing aircraft: 16 EC135s; seven EC145s; 25 BK117s; four Bell 412s; and three Bombardier Learjet 35. Those aircraft operate from 28 bases in Germany and two in Austria. In total the personnel comprise: 180 pilots; 300 HEMS crewmen; 500 emergency doctors and 70 technicians.
HDM Luftrettung is a subsidiary of DRF founded in 1972, and currently operates NVIS services from three of its five HEMS bases at Munich (2009), Regensburg (2010) and Berlin (2011). It has five EC145s (which are NVIS certified by EASA) as well as four Bell 412 HP/EPs (which have no NVIS certification) with NVIS equipment. The NVGs being used are ITT 4949s and Nogalight NL 93s (with the XR5 tube).
According to HDM’s Volker Schreiber, all helicopters and pilots are IFR certified with dual-pilot missions conducted for night and IFR missions. Both pilots use helmet-mounted NVGs and they are used for takeoff, during flight and landing (as required). However, rescue forces on the ground must prepare remote sites, including lighting the landing area and illuminating immediate hazards.
U.S. Army Capt. Nathan Stewart made the point that NVG operators need to understand how their equipment’s performance characteristics were affected by the environment in which a mission was being flown, such as the level of illumination, the terrain, different seasons, the moon light/angle among others: “Remember, performance specifications and capabilities change. Accurate today, may not be accurate tomorrow!”
Carlos de la Cruz Caravaca, a base manager with Spanish HEMS operator INAER, said that the nightly flights recording by his crews hit an average of 1.539 flight hours per night during July 2013. He told delegates that 25 percent of his organization’s flights took place at night (170 from 660 hours per helicopter.) He is based in the Castilla la Mancha with four Eurocopter aircraft (two each of EC135 and EC145) virtually covering the area of operations during the night with a 30-minute response time. Night operations began in 2006 and through a process of infrastructure build up there would be around 225 identifiable and usable night helipads by the end of 2013.
Swiss operator Rega has been flying NVIS operations since 1988. Flying 1,250 sorties per year, Lukas Kistler stated that the reason for NVG use was to “enhance safety, rather than the mission envelope.”
He added that Rega’s “rule of thumb” for NVG operation was to use them when they would prove better than the eye in movements such as climbing, cruising, landing site reconnaissance and approach-to-landing. He concurred with other speakers that hover, takeoff, landing and maneuvering close to obstacles were usually better performed off NVGs.
Quoting U.S. Army statistics, he said that 95 percent of all incidents happen on NVG when the helicopter is being hovered close to the ground.
Rega’s crew concept was to have a single pilot with NVG training using helmet-mounted NVGs. The HEMS crewmember would also be NVG trained, but would use a hand-held NVG device. The medical doctor onboard would not be NVG trained or equipped. He added that communication was very important, even just to say “on goggles” or “naked eye” or “below goggles.”
Later in the day, Gassmann said that Mark Wentink, chief technology officer of Desdemona, Netherlands, gave a report on disorientation training in the impressive Desdemona device from Austrian company AMST (discussed online in March 2011 and December 2012 of www.aviationtoday.com). Wentink highlighted the brownout training in Afghanistan, as well as inverted deep-stall training for F-16 pilots and stall recovery for airline pilots.
Wentink said it was important for Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) pilots to understand and be aware of the dangers of “seat-of-your-pants” flying. Part of the advanced training that they received revolved around real-life, stressful scenarios involved looking at drift and wind effects, particularly over un-even terrain. On NVGs, pilots had to be mindful of the effect that a smaller field-of-view would have over visual references. He raised the issues of false horizons during the hover, the experience of reduced contrast when landing into (runway) lights, and the danger of speed/height perceptions in low-level flight.
Toward the end of the day, CueSim’s Andy Rowe demonstrated several new visual features for the latest flight simulators including “improved volumetric clouds, SpeedTrees, automatic runways and high-density traffic.” Finally, the fun element to the event saw all participants trying their skills on a Segway parkour to test their balance and handling skills.
The second day was focused on customer experience and began with reports from two pilots, Masahiro Nakamura from Aero Asahi, Japan, and Peter Howe who flies with CHC-Australia. Aero Asahi had experience no HEMS accidents since 2001 said Nakamura, despite a national average of around 350 HEMS mission per base. Aircraft used by the organization include the EC135, BK117C2 (EC145), MD900, Bell 429 and AgustaWestland AW109. Japan’s HEMS experience has included providing services post earthquake and tsunami. Nakamura added that the medical staff’s favorite aircraft remained the BK117 due to its internal space and the added bonus that over 100 kg of medical equipment was regularly carried. However, he said that the performance of the EC145 was making a significant difference when it came to improving vertical takeoff limits.
Finally, ADAC Luftrettung’s decision to go forward with the purchase of 14 EC145T2 was explained by Thomas Hutsch of ADAC Luftfahrttechnik and Stefan Brade from ADAC Luftrettung. From the simulation perspective, the process and timeline needed to make changes in the simulator composition toward the development of an additional EC145T2 simulator at the academy were explained, and an offer made to all EC145T2 clients to become involved in this new development.
Thomas Gassmann concluded by revealing that the networking event would be run again next year from Sept. 4-5, 2014.