With its long sea-faring history, Maine has launched—and is still launching—many fine vessels from its coastal boatyards. Last week, our state had reason to celebrate another kind of launch, that of LifeFlight’s new third helicopter. The aircraft will soon be commissioned at its “home port” at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.
The steps in the journey of LifeFlight’s new helicopter are similar to the milestones often marked in shipbuilding—fabrication, fitting out, launch, acceptance, sea trials, deliver
y and commissioning. Following months of fabrication in Vergiate, Italy, LifeFlight’s new helicopter, an Augusta 109 GrandNew, was brought to Leonardo Helicopters’ facility in Philadelphia to be “fitted out.”
There, the aircraft received its medical interior, state-of-the-art avionics, new tail number (N901WM) and signature green and gold paint job. However, this newest paint scheme has a twist—one of the gold stripes was replaced with red in recognition of the $3 million gift from Linda Bean and her lobster company, Bean Maine Lobster. In Philadelphia, the helicopter also received its twin jet engines from Pratt and Whitney. Though not required by the FAA, LifeFlight operates twin engine helicopters which are much safer than their single engine counterparts.
Maine’s new helicopter was officially launched on April 1, 2017 when Erin Emery, Chief Rotor Wing Pilot for our aviation partner, SevenBar, took N901WM, or “Whiskey Mike,” out for its acceptance flight. The purpose of the acceptance flight is to put the aircraft through all of its normal flight parameters to make sure everything has been built to specifications and is ready for service. No issues were found during the test flight.
A few days after Whiskey Mike’s acceptance flight, LifeFlight’s executive director, Thomas Judge, completed the paperwork and officially purchased Maine’s third helicopter. The more than $6 million state-of-the-art helicopter was paid for almost entirely by the generous donors of Maine – nearly 700 of them in total.
Once the aircraft was purchased, Leonardo Helicopters turned Whiskey Mike over to LifeFlight and the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is required to put the helicopter through a process called “conformity” to make sure the aircraft meets all of the criteria necessary for it to safely carry passengers. The conformity inspections are currently being completed at SevenBar Aviation’s headquarters in Dallas, Texas.
Just a few minutes after Executive Director Tom Judge officially accepted the helicopter, chief pilot Erin Emery was filing a flight plan and heading to Charlottesville, VA, the destination for the first leg of her journey to Dallas. This 3-day ferry flight would serve as a good opportunity to really test the aircraft—take it out on its “sea trials,” so to speak. (Read more about the journey on Erin’s blog.)
Among the most significant improvements in this new A109 model are the advanced avionics. Whiskey Mike has new technology that exceeds the capabilities of previous models of the A109. It has a fully glass cockpit which means that the entire instrument panel is comprised of computer screens instead of the round ‘steam gauges’ used in aircraft for the past 100 years. The state-of-the-art technology means LifeFlight pilots have more information to safely guide them when flying through the clouds.
The aircraft arrived in Dallas without problem. It will remain at SevenBar while the FAA completes the conformity inspections, which will take a few weeks. LifeFlight expects the new helicopter to arrive in Maine sometime during the last week of April or the first week of May.
LifeFlight of Maine is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit air medical and critical care transport organization. LifeFlight brings lifesaving critical care staff and equipment directly to the patient by helicopter, airplane and ground ambulance. It also provides advanced emergency medical training to Maine’s hospitals, emergency medical services (EMS) and public safety agencies. Overseen by 25 physicians, LifeFlight cared for nearly 1,800 critically ill and injured patients last year. Since its inception in 1998, LifeFlight has transported more than 22,000 patients from every hospital and nearly all of Maine’s communities and islands.