Air ambulance services have the tough job of serving injured or critically ill patients. Medical helicopters help rescue crews on the ground get patients to a doctor when minutes matter most. Medical transport planes help teams of doctors retrieve organ donations or fly patients long distances when they need medical attention they can’t find close to home. It takes a variety of aircraft in the fleet to get the job done right.
When you see a medical helicopter flying overhead, you might be looking at a Bell helicopter. There are several different style or models of Bell helicopters, but this craft was designed with medical transport in mind. The Bell 206L (Long Ranger) was enhanced to offer a longer cabin to give crews more room for patients. The 406 and 427 models were also given patient transport enhancements like flat floors and doors that help crews load patients faster and with more ease.
One of the most unique Eurocopter is the EC135 that has an enclosed tail rotor to make landing in rural areas safer. The Sikorsky S-76 is widely used as well because of its wide capacity that can fit two patients plus a crew.
Another aircraft used by air ambulance services are fixed winged planes like the LeerJet 35, Beechcraft King Air 200, Cessna Citation V, and Gulfstream Jet. All of these planes are widely used as luxury aircraft, but they can be reconfigured to haul patients and their families across the country to get the medical attention they need. The jets’ lightning speed is also used when time is critical and medical teams need to harvest organs to save another person’s life.
The birth of air ambulance services came during wartime, but it’s not the aircraft you might expect. The earliest recorded air evacuations were the rescue of 160 soldiers by hot air balloons during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 in Paris. Thankfully, the aircrafts of today have evolved into precise and lightning fast birds. One of the driving forces behind air ambulances was a French woman by the name of Marie Marvingt. She was a daring woman who dressed as a man so she could fight on the front lines of war. Marvingt was the first woman to pilot a hot air balloon across the English Channel and the North Sea, and the third woman in the entire world to get her fixed-wing pilot’s license. In 1912, Marvingt began devoting her time and energy into developing a suitable air ambulance program.
It wasn’t until World War I that the United States began using airplanes to transport injured soldiers from the battlefield, but even then, the U.S. Army did not have a plane designed for medical transports. What the Army found was that their aircrafts couldn’t fit stretchers and the injured were exposed to the elements if they rode in the open-air cockpits. It was time to head to the drawing board.
By the end of WWI, the Army had plans for a makeshift air ambulance, but even then, the converted rear cockpit could only fit one person. After the war ended, both government and non-government air ambulance services began to take off. The Korean War was the first time the U.S. used dedicated helicopters as an air ambulance service. Today, the government regularly uses air ambulances during battle, and non-governmental agencies are available all across the America to serve the public during crisis situations.