ANN ARBOR — Three new maize-and-blue helicopters will soon be saving lives in the air above the Great Lakes states, and speeding patients toward advanced care at the University of Michigan Health System’s hospitals.
The arrival of three new American Eurocopter 155 helicopters marks the beginning of a new era for the 29-year-old U-M Survival Flight program, which was the first medical flight service in Michigan. The first one entered service Friday afternoon.
Survival Flight helicopters are essentially mobile trauma centers and intensive care units, complete with state-of-the-art lifesaving technology and the latest navigational equipment that allows them to fly safely in all types of weather.
The Health System chose the new aircraft to replace three Bell 430 helicopters that have been icons since 1998. More than 10,000 critically ill and injured patients and donated organs for transplant have passed through their cabin doors, each flight carrying a unique story of pain and hope. Together, they have flown the distance to the moon and back several times.
Now, Survival Flight will be able to travel further, faster, and more quietly, using the first EC155s to be put into emergency medical service in the U.S.
The new helicopters are equipped with advanced equipment and safety features, including the ability to fly in low-visibility conditions. They have nearly 50 percent more cabin space for nurses and patients, an all-glass cockpit, and a 500-mile range allows them to fly as far as Marquette, Mich., Syracuse, N.Y., or Louisville, Kent. without refueling. They also have clearance to fly to Canada.
Their five-blade main rotors and shrouded Fenestron tail rotors reduce vibration and noise, providing a smooth ride at high speeds. A much shorter warm-up time shaves critical minutes from both ends of flights, as does a faster cruising speed.
“Survival Flight is about more than just getting a really sick patient from point A to point B,” says Mark Lowell, M.D., Survival Flight’s medical director. “It’s about the highly specialized care the patient receives before, during, and after transport.”
During transports, the helicopters are staffed by two flight nurses, who are also licensed as paramedics. Survival Flight is the only health care provider in the state to require this high standard of dual certification. The 21 full-time nurses are cross-trained to treat everyone from newborns to geriatric patients.
Tony Denton, executive director of University Hospitals and chief operating officer of the U-M Hospitals and Health Centers, says the new helicopters are part of the Health System’s effort to create the ideal patient care experience including advanced care provided with the utmost attention to safety.
“The rapid transport of acutely ill and complex patients to U-M hospitals gives every Michigander, and residents of all the Great Lakes states, timely access to sophisticated, compassionate and safe care for children and adults. We are eager to offer this latest technology to those in need,” he says.