The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter operation has just taken delivery of a purpose-built, twin engine BK117 helicopter, replacing the current single-engine AS350FX2 that has served the region for the last 23 years.
This is considered a significant upgrade and it follows the lead of other regional rescue helicopter operations in Taranaki, Hawkes Bay and Nelson.
The BK117 is the most popular Rescue Helicopter in New Zealand and also around the rest of the world. They are an extremely useful combination of multi-role capability, high performance and agility with sufficient room to carry the crews and patients required across the very broad range of uses that Rescue Helicopters are put to in New Zealand.
Over the last nine months it has been modified to make it as fit for its rescue role as possible, based on 23 years of Palmerston North experience and also drawing on the experience of other rescue helicopter providers throughout New Zealand. These modifications include a 600lb rescue winch, night vision capability and high density seating.
It also has an extensive communication suite to enable both internal and external communication amongst crews and stakeholders covering all possibilities, Police, LandSAR, clinical control centres, RCCNZ and ground crews, to mention a few. Because it will operate in both Palmerston North and Wellington Regional Airspace the external communication systems need to deal with both analogue and digital frequencies so that it is future-proof in terms of the roll out of the Whole of Government Digital Radio Network.
The avionics are all 2015 technology; the helicopter is fitted with what is known as “glass cockpit” video display screens including “synthetic vision”, rather than the traditional round dials, that typify most aircraft cockpits of the past. This advanced “glass cockpit” system has required extensive crew re-training to allow them to make the mental shift from the old style to the new.
‘Because this is the most recently custom-modified rescue helicopter in New Zealand it has the most advanced equipment which should engender increased levels of safety’ says Base Manager and Pilot Chris Moody.
The cost of this new helicopter is in the order of $3.6m. It has been funded by a combined package of borrowings, reserves, specific bequests and Grants from a range of community organisations and, finally, three years’ accumulated one-off capital focussed contributions from the 8,650 Friends of the Rescue Helicopter throughout the region amounting to $351,629 to date and still growing. There are still unfunded costs of $235,933 to source.
The Palmerston North Rescue Helicopter Service carried out 258 missions last year, an increase of 12% over the previous year; many of these missions were conducted in challenging locations and in adverse weather conditions.
This new helicopter has the extra benefit of being able to continually operate out of the original community funded Rescue Base and Hangar right next door to the Palmerston North Emergency Department and will also allow routine flights to land directly on the Whanganui Hospital Campus helipad.
Local crew training and familiarisation is being undertaken and the new helicopter will commence operations later this month and a formal launching ceremony is being planned.
The service is governed by the Philips Search and Rescue Trust which is a charitable organisation, operating rescue helicopters throughout the Central North Island. Philips Search and Rescue Trust relies on support from sponsors and community donations. This crucial financial support ensures our rescue helicopters can continue to bring life-saving equipment, rescue personnel and trauma-trained medics directly to the patient.