SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
University of Michigan's 3 EC155s set new standards in helicopter medical care.
N155UM on ready alert on the Survival Flight helipad. The pad surface is aluminum with heating elements underneath to keep the surface free of ice and snow.
Single-pilot IFR ops have long been routine for Survival Flight, starting in 1989 with the Bell 230.
As the aircraft search gained momentum, Survival Flight's experienced instrument pilots homed in on the avionics in each candidate helicopter's cockpit.
Having been through 3 generations of aircraft, they had become experts on the new generation of avionics. As such, they challenged manufacturers' salespeople to demonstrate how their products would fit Survival Flight's mission profile.
The medical crews, fresh with the memories of compromises in cabin space and payload that they'd learned to live with, were equally focused on improving their work environment in the next aircraft.
Their objectives included the ability to load an actual 6 ft 2 in patient into the cabin and still be assured of the access needed for acute care, easy loading and unloading of specialty equipment such as isolettes and heart balloon pumps, and quickly configuring crew seating to suit the mission.
The U-M team presented their requirements to helicopter and equipment manufacturers. As the search progressed the list of acceptable candidates narrowed, and the Eurocopter EC155 began to emerge as the favorite.
Its latest-generation single-pilot IFR cockpit—built into the EC155's design—got the pilots' vote. The avionics would make missions in inclement weather safer and more on-time than ever. And the EC155 would provide a 1500-lb increase in useful load over the Bell 430 that they could apportion to a better patient care cabin, longer range and better summer day performance. There was also a significant speed increase.
The final deciding factor was historically unique to the U-M service profile. The heliports at all 97 hospitals around the state that Survival Flight had helped develop and build were sized for the Bell 430. Of the final list of candidate helicopters, the only one that could operate into those heliports was the EC155.
So the decision was made. The EC155 could fly nonstop to almost anywhere in Michigan in 20% less time and land at every one of the heliports developed by U-M. Its sophisticated avionics, with the latest in terrain and collision avoidance, night vision goggle (NVG) capabilities, and state-of-the-art communications, would ensure the safest possible flying in all weather conditions.
The EC155's cabin—almost 2 ft wider than the 430's—would be fitted with the latest equipment and systems. Survival Flight's medical crews would for the first time be able to perform the entire spectrum of patient care missions, and to a higher level of accomplishment than ever.
Enter the new EC155s
Survival Flight pilots use an iPad-based weight-and-balance graphic. The program depicts a plot of CG travel for the entire flight.
After an extensive completion program at Metro Aviation, the first of the 3 new helicopters was put into service. Jeff Dowdall is rotorcraft site mgr for Pentastar Aviation, the FAA commercial operator for Survival Flight. The pilots are Pentastar employees, subject to the Part 135 regulatory structure within Pentastar's operating certificate.
The EC155s are listed in Pentastar's ops specs, along with special provisions for IFR and NVG missions.
Dowdall provided a detailed walkaround briefing on the first of Survival Flight's 3 new EC155's to enter service—N155UM. The cockpit has the latest in body-conforming, high-impact-protection crew seats. Dual Thales flat panel displays, a PFD and an MFD are the center of each pilot station.
Dual Garmin 430 WAAS-capable nav systems occupy the center console, along with separate radio control heads for VHF communications and navigation. A Technosonic TF7000 communications system provides easy frequency programming for the many different agencies that Survival Flight works with.
Honeywell provided the King KMD500 weather radar, which also superimposes terrain and traffic information as needed. Safran's 4-axis dual-channel AFCS is available to the pilot for IFR flight from takeoff to touchdown.
"We've had GPS instrument approaches approved for our main base here at U-M for years," says Dowdall, "along with 3 other hospital helipads within our own system. But they're obsolete now because of the new hospital buildings that have been added recently.
So we're going to develop new approach procedures using our WAAS-capable nav systems. The enhanced approach capabilities that WAAS offers will allow us to operate IFR even with the new buildings close by."
Dowdall pointed out other features of the EC155 that make it an effective aeromedical platform. The latest technology litter system maneuvers with a mere touch of the hands to the cabin doorway, where even the heaviest patient can be easily transferred from an ambulance into the helicopter.
The litter system is also capable of securing the bulkiest specialty hardware safely—for example, a 180-lb isolette or a 100-lb balloon pump.
Initially, Eurocopter had supplied crew seats that were legally approved for the EC155, but there were problems. While the seat bottoms folded up when they weren't needed, the stowed seats interfered with the litter's travel path from the door to its center-cabin patient station.
And they were uncomfortable for the crew on longer flights. The nurse team identified a seat manufactured by famed British ejection seat company Martin-Baker. They "sit-tested" it and found it to be a great improvement over the stock Eurocopter seat. It also folded more efficiently, clear of the litter's travel path. The Martin-Baker seats are now certified and in service.
The EC155's large aft baggage compartment serves the Survival Flight mission well. The liquid oxygen system is installed there, with easy access for bottle changes through the large right-hand door. An additional 150 lbs of medical equipment is stored there so that the crew is always equipped for any mission without returning to base.
As Dowdall points out, the tightly fitted aluminum floor is machined for a near infinite combination of crew seats, mission equipment and patient placement. Unlike previous-generation medical cabins, in which the floors were of a composite material impervious to body fluids, the Metro-designed floor is bare aluminum, sealed at all seams that interface with the aircraft cabin structure.