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Emergency medical services, and search and rescue


Vertical/short takeoff and landing capabilities make helos and turboprops ideal for EMS & 
SAR operations.

By Pro Pilot staff

Leonardo AW139.
Time-sensitive aerial emergency medical services (EMS), and search and rescue (SAR) missions, demand aircraft capable of reaching remote locations and inaccessible sites.

Helicopters and turboprops are ideal for these types of operations, so we’ll highlight the most popular offerings from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) supplying the EMS and SAR realm.

Rotary-wing solutions

Hovering and vertical takeoff and landing characteristics of helicopters make it easier to locate and extract subjects in SAR jobs. In addition, rotary-wing aircraft are used in the EMS field for faster short-hop patient transportation.

From single-engine options to larger machines, here’s what’s available from the major helo OEMs.


AW119Kx. This single-engine helo is an outstanding performer in hot and high conditions, and it’s broadly used in EMS and rescue missions.

Its cabin can be configured for 4 medical attendants and 1 stretcher, or 2 attendants and dual stretcher. In addition, its modular interior can accommodate advanced life-support equipment.

The helo features wide sliding doors and a 405-lb hoist for SAR operations.

AW139. It features a jointly developed configuration for EMS and SAR missions. In SAR mode, the AW139 is spacious and can be configured to accommodate a fully integrated mission console, medical treatment, and casualty evacuation interiors.

The EMS version accommodates up to 5 medical attendants and 4 stretchers longitudinally and transversely, along with a full suite of advanced life-support equipment. The large sliding doors on each side are designed for easy stretcher loading, both on ground and in flight.

AW169. It ensures a rapid emergency response, even for long-distance inter-hospital transport or for EMS and SAR missions at high altitude.

AW189. Speed, range, and payload characteristics ensure the highest performance in demanding SAR and medical evacuation (medevac) missions, even in icing conditions.

AW109 GrandNew. Designed to operate in challenging conditions associated with EMS and SAR missions over land and water, the GrandNew can accommodate single or dual stretchers with up to 4 seats for medical attendants, or up to 6 seats for medevac.

Airbus H135

Airbus Helicopters

US Coast Guard operates MH-65 Dauphins in SAR guise along the country’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Hawaiian Islands. In addition, the Finnish Border Guard has flown AS332 L1 Super Pumas for maritime SAR.

H125 and H130. Both single-engine helicopters are widely used in EMS missions, offering good dispatch reliability and high performance, excellent visibility, mission flexibility, and low operating costs. H125 can transport 1 stretcher and up to 3 medical crew members, plus medical equipment.

H130 has a wide side-loading capability of 7.2 ft, accommodating 1 stretcher and up to 4 medical crew, plus equipment. Furthermore, it can be configured to accommodate up to 2 pilots, 3 crew members and 1 stretcher. H135.

Represents around 25% of the global helicopter EMS fleet, with more than 600 units in service. Its versatile cabin design with side and rear loading capabilities allows the aircraft to be configured in a variety of different EMS interiors, including single-patient, dual-patient, and intensive care transport.

H145. The go-to helo for transport of intensive care patients or incubators, the H145’s high-mounted tail boom and wide-opening clamshell doors facilitate access to the spacious cabin. It’s available with an all-in-one solution, which facilitates triple roles such as hospital transfer flights, transport of emergency personnel, and mountain rescue missions with the support of an external hoist or dual cargo hook system for human external cargo.

H155. Large, sparsely populated areas benefit from its high payload and long range. It offers cabin space that boosts patient care and accommodates bulky medical equipment. This aircraft comes with a glass cockpit and Airbus’s dual digital 4-axis autopilot, which maximizes pilot effectiveness.

H175. Its large cabin size, airborne endurance, range and useful load make this helicopter suitable for intensive care transport and medevac.

Super Puma family (H215 and H225) can be fitted with 6 stretchers for civilian EMS duties and up to 11 stretchers in its military version. It is also proposed in a helicopter intensive care medical service (hicams) configuration.


Bell 412EP

Bell 525. The manufacturer markets this helicopter in both EMS and SAR configuration. For EMS operations, it offers cabin flexibility and improved situational awareness with its Garmin G5000H avionics suite, improving operational safety in unforgiving conditions.

SAR configuration can be adapted to meet the specific needs of operators. Furthermore, the helicopter’s fly-by-wire system enables greater pilot situational awareness, especially for low speed/low altitude and degraded visual environment conditions.

Bell 505. In EMS configuration, the 505’s flat-floor cabin, 55-inch clamshell door, and easy-to-install interiors make it ideal for fast and efficient patient and medical personnel transport. Rear seat rails can be used to support life-saving medical equipment.

Its G1000H NXi avionics suite provides added situational awareness for flights into high traffic and complex terrain areas.

Bell 407 GXi. An all-composite 4-bladed rotor system provides impressive hover performance and speed, as well as a smooth ride.

It performs well in demanding environments such as high altitudes, arctic conditions, and extreme heat.  A standard bifold door with a 61-inch opening permits quick and easy patient loading and unloading.

Bell 429. Designed with the air ambulance market in mind, the 429’s deck height matches litter height and allows 1-man litter loading with less lifting or back strain through either side or optional aft clamshell doors. Its large cabin allows full body access, optimizing patient care.

Bell 412EPI. Enhancements incorporated in the latest evolution of this platform include Pratt & Whitney PT6T-9 Twin-Pac engines to improve hot and high performance, an optional gross weight kit that increases useful load to 5129 lb, and BLR Aerospace’s Strake and FastFin for better hover performance.

MD 600N

MD Helicopters

MD offers single- and twin-engine EMS and SAR solutions with large, configurable cabins, low operating costs, and low noise and vibration levels due to its NOTAR technology.

MD 600N. This single-turbine machine has an enhanced 6-blade main rotor system, making it a preferred helicopter in a variety of mission profiles, including EMS and SAR. Its Rolls-Royce 25-C47M turboshaft engine allows speeds up to 134 kts, gives it a useful load of 2000 lb, and permits a range of 380 nm.

MD 902 Explorer. This twin-engine, powered by Pratt & Whitney PW207E turboshafts, is a reliable performer in the air medical and SAR fields, among others. Useful load is 3125 lb, maximum cruise speed is 131 kts, and range is 328 nm.


Robinson R66

Robinson Helicopter

Although the company does not have an EMS-dedicated helo due to the modest size of its aircraft, the R66 turbine helicopter – when adequately equipped – is capable of performing rescue missions and transporting medical personnel.

R66s have been used to assist in searches, particularly in remote parts of Alaska and Canada. Related equipment includes a cargo hook installation rated for external loads up to 1200 lb, with a maximum combined helicopter/load weight of 2900 lb.


S-92. This all-weather helicopter has excelled in critical life-saving missions since Sikorsky delivered the first SAR S-92 in 2007. It can fly programmed search patterns for 1 hour at 185 nm with standard fuel, and 320 nm with aux fuel.

With standard fuel configuration, the S‑92 can rescue 2 people at 210 nm, and 10 at 175 nm. With optional auxiliary tanks installed, these distances expand out to 320 nm and 285 nm, respectively. What’s more, it has ample power reserves to work with heavy loads in high density altitudes.

Sikorsky S-76

S-76. It’s been in service in the emergency medical transportation market for 35 years. In fact, more than 10% of the fleet’s flight hours have been flown in critical life-saving SAR and EMS missions. The latest version, the S-76D, continues the model’s legacy.


Air medical transport missions covering longer distances demand aircraft capable of transporting greater loads while still being able to access remote locations and operate into and out of short, unimproved runways. Turboprops fill this niche, and these are the options supplied by major manufacturers.


PC-12 NGX. The single-pilot-certified PC-12 is widely used in air ambulance configuration due to its low operating costs and unique ability to operate in and out of unpaved runways. Its cabin has plenty of space and comfort for up to 3 patients plus medical systems, and the large cargo door ensures easy loading and unloading.

Pilatus PC-12NGX

For SAR operations, it may be configured with a multipurpose utility/drop door. This extra door is integrated within the large cargo door and can be opened in flight to allow, for example, dropping food and aid supplies, or the deplaning of skydivers.

A 4-seat configuration is available which offers generous stowage space for aid supplies or auxiliary equipment. It has a max payload of 2236 lb, and a 1803-nm range.


Cessna Caravan and Grand Caravan EX. Capable of performing life-critical missions in remote locations, flying in adverse environments, and operating on rough terrain, the Caravan’s high-wing design allows for a stable platform for smooth inflight medical care.

Medical systems, from basic non-critical to neonatal care, can be mounted directly to existing seat tracks. Max range for the Caravan is 1070 nm, and it has a useful load of 3305 lb. The Grand Caravan EX has an increased useful load of 3532 lb at the expense of range – 912 nm.

Beechcraft King Air C90GTx. This is the aircraft of choice for air ambulance operators. It allows installation of stretcher systems from all major suppliers. Max range is 1260 nm and useful load is 3280 lb.

Beechcraft King Air 360ER

Beechcraft King Air 250. Living up to its reputation as a rugged and dependable performer, its spacious, climate-controlled cabin allows for critical care of 2 patients and equipage with medical devices. An optional cargo door allows for easy patient loading. King Air 250’s max range is 1720 nm, and useful load is 3760 lb – although payload can be increased for hauling more equipment.

Beechcraft King Air 360ER. With longer range and increased speeds, the King Air 360ER allows operators to transport patients in need of critical care out of remote areas. The large versatile cabin can accommodate a range of customized configurations, including custom medical cabinets. Multiple crew seating options are also available, as well as an optional powered loader for easy patient boarding. It has a max range of 2692 nm and useful load of 7145 lb.


Kodiak 100


Kodiak 100 Series II. Air ambulance activities can benefit from the Kodiak’s operational flexibility. It is capable of operating on rough and very short strips, as well as on water when equipped with floats. Medevac operations have been at the heart of the Kodiak design from the beginning.

The plane is easily adapted from passenger and cargo hauling to medical airlift in emergencies. With a max range of 1132 nm and a useful load of 3530 lb, the Kodiak has been used in air ambulance missions in the aftermath of earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods.