What the Duke of Cambridge can expect to do on a typical day as an air ambulance pilot

East Anglian Air Ambulance pilot Cpt Dave Kelly. Picture by Keith Jones East Anglian Air Ambulance pilot Cpt Dave Kelly. Picture by Keith Jones

Friday, August 8, 2014
9:33 AM

With the news that the Duke of Cambridge is to train as an East Anglian Air Ambulance pilot, we look at what the role could entail for the second in line to the throne.

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Kim Briscoe, who has flown with the EAAA on missions, gives her thoughts on the Duke’s new role

The pilots who work for air ambulances are pretty sure they’ve got one of the best helicopter jobs outside the military.

And the vast majority of them are ex-military for two reasons - it’s normally the only way they log enough flying hours and expertise to qualify for the role, and their forces experience means they are also well-prepared to deal with the traumatic incidents they attend.

There’s clearly the tricky landings and take-offs in unsurveyed fields with hazards such as livestock and wires to watch out for.

But their role is so much more than just flying the helicopter.

They truly are a member of a team, and that can involve carrying patients on a stretcher and loading them into the helicopter, or helping to keep an injured person’s friends and family calm and informed of what the clinicians are doing.

I was so impressed with all the pilots I met and felt they were great ambassadors for the charity when out and about.

Every call is different, but if it was safe to do so they would happily chat to interested members of the public about the helicopter or have a pic taken with an excited child.

The tense situations faced by the crew, and the huge responsibility they shoulder in trying to save lives, brings them together as a close-knit team.

And the hours spent at base waiting for calls means there is plenty of time to get to know each other, so if the Duke of Cambridge joins the air ambulance then its clinicians are likely to form a close working relationship with him.

But while it may seem like an exciting role, like any job it comes with its more mundane tasks.

Like the time one of the pilots and I spent 20 minutes sweeping soil and mud out of the helicopter after a trip to a motocross injury.

I hope His Royal Highness won’t mind getting stuck in with a dustpan and brush...

The East Anglian Air Ambulance currently has two permanent pilots in Norwich, and three permanent pilots in Cambridge, who are supported by Bond back-up pilots to help cover any gaps in the shifts.

Norwich pilots work a 12-hour shift, covering 7am to 7pm, while the night capability of the aircraft in Cambridge means it operates over a 16-hour period, which involves two eight-hour shifts. Pilots work four days on, four days off. So what could Prince William expect to be doing on a typical day as a pilot with the East Anglian Air Ambulance?

The day shifts start at 7am with a briefing with the crew. This includes looking at the weather for the day, as well as NoTAMs (notice to airmen), checking over the aircraft and planning for any visits.

The crew then notify the ambulance control that they are ready to take calls. When a call comes in the paramedic usually answers it, finds out where it is likely to be and whether it is suitable. The pilot heads out first to start up the helicopter and normally within four to five minutes of getting the call the crew is on its way.

When on a HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) mission, the aircraft has priority over other air traffic and can take a direct route to the incident.

The paramedic sits in the front of the aircraft and assists with navigation and the crew can receive updates from ambulance control as to the location and reported injuries.

When the helicopter arrives at the location, all the crew survey the scene and decide on a place to land. It needs to be far enough away not to cause a disruption, but not too far or it will take too long to get a patient to the helicopter.

There is often a raft of safety issues to take into consideration too, and the pilot has the final say on where to land.

Once on the ground, the paramedic and doctor head quickly to assess the casualty while the pilot stays with the helicopter. If the pilot is able to power down and safely leave the aircraft, they can assist the crew, for example by helping to carry a stretcher.

The clinical crew decide whether a patient needs to be transported and if so, to which hospital is most appropriate.

The pilot will stay with the aircraft on arrival at hospital, and then once the patient has been handed over they will return with the crew to the base for refuelling.

While the clinical crew are responsible for any clinical cleaning of equipment, the pilot is responsible for the overall condition of the helicopter, for example removing mud from the floor of the aircraft.

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