VIDEO: Mayo One uses new high-tech helicopters

Published 12:24 pm Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mayo One gave members of the Austin media a chance Friday to get an up-close experience with its newest addition to their air ambulance fleet.

Mayo One has begun replacing its American Eurocopter BK117 with the newer state-of-the-art EC145 that utilizes a top-of-the-line global positioning system that gives the aircraft pinpoint navigation capabilities.

“Mayo has stepped forward and out of their own pocket, financed a private company to work with the FAA to establish GPS instrument approaches to all hospitals in the area Mayo serves,” pilot Richard Koehnen said Friday after setting the helicopter down on Austin Medical Center’s helipad.

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The aircraft is a sibling to the BK117, which made up the fleet before the inception of the EC145.

What Mayo One gets with the EC145 is more of everything. More space for transporting patients and more navigational abilities including an auto pilot that can guide the helicopter to within two-tenths of a mile of its landing zone before the pilot takes over.

This enables the EC145 to operate in weather conditions that might otherwise ground an aircraft.

During Friday’s demonstration, Koehnen took Austin Medical Center Chief Administrator Adam Rees and Austin Police Chief Paul Philipp on a demonstration flight.

Just outside of Austin, Koehnen put the helicopter on IFR (instrument flight rules) and let autopilot take over, while still controlling airspeed. From there the autopilot conducted its turns and took the aircraft on its designated path back into Austin.

When Koehnen took back control again, the helicopter was already very nearly over the helipad again at AMC.

“It’s very similar to an airline approach shot going into Rochester or Minneapolis,” Koehnen said. “We have a helicopter GPS approach to the helipad here at Austin, we have it into Fairmont and Blue Earth and almost all hospitals down here that we service.

“It lends so much credibility to the mission we are performing,” he said.

The upgrade in helicopters also allows for more room where the patient is transported and doesn’t limit patient care too much.

“We can take care of just about anything,” said Brenda Richardson who is a registered nurse with Mayo One. “A good description is a flying emergency room.”

“The interior was built around the equipment that we have,” she said. “Everything has its place, everything is secured, but within easy access.”

For administrators like Rees, the benefits of an aircraft given more access to situations are obvious.

“What it really means is we can serve the community much better,” he said after Friday’s ride. “We obviously have certain capabilities, but at some point we can’t care for that patient anymore.

“Knowing we have the services of Mayo One, that enables us then to quickly, efficiently and safely transport patients to another center like Mayo in Rochester,” Rees said.

It also will take up a natural relationship with police departments who have GPS in their squad cars.

“We work and the sheriff’s department works with them to provide GPS coordinates,” Philipp said. “Our cars have the ability to collect GPS coordinates for an accident scene so we can let the helicopter en route, know where they are headed.”

Mayo One currently has two EC145s, one each based in Mankato and Eau Claire, Wis., and plans to add a third EC145 for stationing at St. Marys Hospital in Rochester.

There are four total helicopters in the fleet with one used as a backup when needed.