We have two state of the art AW169 helicopters built by the Leonardo helicopter company (formally Augusta Westland) in Italy.:
The first was delivered in late 2018 and the second a few months later becoming fully operational in July 2019. They were specifically designed for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) work and are used around the world for search and rescue and air ambulance work, we have the only ones operational in New Zealand.
The biggest improvement over our older BK117 helicopters is the amount of space in the cabin for the patient and medical team. Now the medics are not constrained for space, if necessary, they can conduct lifesaving procedures inside the helicopter rather than having to do them before the patient is loaded. The extra space allows access all around the patient and enables us to carry a wider range of medical equipment so the helicopter is now equipped similarly to a hospital emergency department bed.
The interior of the helicopter was designed in New Zealand and permits quick and smooth loading and unloading of patients with all the necessary medical equipment attached to the stretcher. Another benefit of the increased space is the crew do not need to re-role the helicopter between different mission types so it can go directly from transporting a someone to hospital to conducting a winch rescue.
The AW169 is equipped with the latest electronic navigation and display systems, including a sophisticated autopilot, which greatly enhance safety and reduce the pilot workload. It is one of a very few helicopter types that can use the latest high precision instrument approaches which means for suitable destinations it can operate in worse weather conditions than previous types.
The helicopter is fully night vision goggle compatible, including lighting in the cabin so the medics can continue to treat the patients without impacting the pilot’s ability to safely operate on the darkest nights.
There are three large screens in the cockpit which display all the information the pilot needs, for flight, day in cloud or at night. Detailed information about all the helicopter systems can be displayed although sophisticated monitoring systems means the crew are advised of a problem without having to look at and interpret gauges or dials. Most of the helicopter systems are operated through touch screens rather than switches reducing the number of controls and increasing reliability. Many inflight functions like selecting autopilot or changing radio frequencies can be carried out without the pilot having to take his hands off the controls.
This is an onboard database of all the terrain in New Zealand including masts and other obstacles and will warn the crew both on the cockpit displays and through the intercom system if it detects the helicopter heading towards any danger.
This detects other aircraft and displays their position on the pilots screens, it also provides and audio warning if another aircraft comes too close and in the worst case will give the pilot instructions to avoid a collision.
A camera in the nose of the helicopter using infrared vision technology can display a view ahead of the aircraft which in some conditions can help the pilot see objects and terrain in conditions of low visibility.
A computer generated 3-dimensional picture of the outside world on the pilot’s displays showing the hills, valleys powerlines and airfields to help enhance the overall situational awareness when operating in unfamiliar areas.