Sometimes a life can be saved in a matter of minutes. In such cases, you need to be able to intervene as quickly as possible, and for a SAMU (Urgent Medical Aid Service) helicopter this means landing as close as possible to the scene of an accident.

Thierry Mazenc, flight assistant at Babcock, which operates the H135  from Toulon hospital, recalls a mission where it was literally a matter of life and death for a person injured by a boat propeller: “We landed on the breakwater. We had to land as close as possible to allow the doctor to intervene directly on the ship and save the victim. It was a matter of minutes.” And in this type of situation, the size of the H135 and the limited blast of its rotor are assets. As Nicolas Dupe, pilot for Secours Aérien Français (SAF)  in Toulouse, confirms, “the philosophy of the SAMU in France is to bring the doctor as close as possible to the victim”. Emmanuel Soubrouillard, pilot for SAF, also operating out of Toulon, agrees: “The agility and size of the machine are assets when it comes to intervening and landing as close as possible to the intervention zone. We can land anywhere, even in the middle of town. In the Var region, where we often have to work in steep or wooded areas, this advantage becomes an imperative.” Nicolas Dupe also believes that the H135 is well suited to the areas covered by the H135 at the Toulouse hospital, from the Gers to the Pyrenees and the Black Mountains.

Vital missions

In France, 63 helicopters are operated on behalf of the SAMU, including 21 of the H135 family. These ‘ambulance’ helicopters carry out two types of missions, including ‘secondary’ flights, which involve transferring patients between two hospitals. “Babies in particular,” states Cyril Bonci, pilot at Mont Blanc Hélicoptères, who regularly works with an incubator transporting very premature babies requiring neonatal care. Other missions are referred to as ‘primary’, in which case the aim is to land as close as possible to the patient and evacuate them as quickly as possible to hospital. In addition to the pilot, the H135’s cabin accommodates a flight assistant, a doctor, a nurse and the patient. Nicolas Dupe believes that this configuration allows the medical team to work with the appropriate equipment. For crews, the possibility of loading a stretcher through the rear opening or through the side doors is also an advantage. The H135’s ease of use and reliability are also highlighted. “I’ve logged over 3,000 flight hours on the H135 family, and I’ve never had any problems. It’s a sound machine,” explains Cyril Bonci. Emmanuel Soubrouillard also insists on the reliability of the autopilot, enabling him to manage the mission serenely and deal with unforeseen events: “The autopilot is reliable and works all the time”.

Ease of use

It has to be said that pilots sometimes have to land in difficult conditions, in areas where space is at a premium, with strong winds and high summer temperatures. “The agility of the H135 is a plus,” insists Emmanuel Soubrouillard. In Nancy, France, Cyril Bonci must even have the ability to operate at night. “The autopilot is very stable and reassuring,” he explains. Nicolas Dupe also believes that the H135 is extremely easy to use, and that the start-up assistance, for example, simplifies the crew’s work, especially when they have to leave in an emergency at night. The H135 family of aircraft has continued to evolve since it entered service. Helionix avionics and the 4-axis autopilot now enhance safety and extend response capabilities. The use of night vision goggles will soon enable crews to increase the number of night missions. More than ever, the H135 family will remain the go-anywhere flying ambulance of the SAMU in France.

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