Driving up to the new Wiltshire Air Ambulance (WAA) building in Semington is certainly impressive, especially in the sun. We were greeted by their lovely receptionist and, whilst we waited for our site passes, we took the opportunity to admire the current black and white helicopter standing in for the famous yellow and green helicopter seen on-call in the skies about Wiltshire and surrounding areas.
Luckily the weather was on our side as we went out onto the helipad and met Paramedic Rocky and Pilot Rob, pictured below with Hillbrush Managing Director Charlie Coward, who accepted a cheque for £757.40 on behalf of WAA - raised through donations to the Hillbrush Christmas Raffle in December 2018.
We were then fortunate enough to have a long chat with Rob about how things work at WAA - he even recognised the sound of a Wildcat helicopter overhead, as we stood inside, remembering that one would be flying over at about 12,000 ft that day from the flight schedule the military send over to ensure aviation safety.
Rob went on to talk about the speed at which they scramble when a call comes in from the Exeter dispatch centre and how there are so many things to think about at all times when preparing and flying a helicopter, including the necessary, but worrying thought ‘if we were to experience engine failure right now, could I safely land here?’
We even learned about the technology they have in the cockpit of the helicopter, including standard dial gauges, mapping technology and even an iPad to check where, on Google Earth, the best place to land as close as possible to the highly accurate grid reference that is given when a call comes through.
As Rob was talking about the yellow and green chopper, we heard the current black and white Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) helicopter start up (for training purposes only - fortunately there were no emergency calls to WAA during our visit). Needless to say, we were interested so went over to watch the (relatively) new pilot take off, hover, back up and increase height to about 100ft and fly off. You can see the video here.
As you can see in the video, the blades look like they’re spinning slowly, but as you can hear, they’re actually spinning much, much faster (the shutter speed of the camera only captures the blades at certain times, not like our eyes that see it as it is). You’ll also notice that as the helicopter is about to take off, the blades curve upwards slightly.
From an engineering perspective, the current helicopter is a very interesting design. It doesn’t have a rear rotor blade but instead has, what Rob referred to as, a bucket which spins clockwise or anti-clockwise to direct the air and turn the helicopter (you can see it moving in the video).
After the helicopter took off, we continued the tour and were shown into the simulation training room. This is a fantastic investment that allows the pilots and paramedics to feel as if they’re in a real-life environment, with all the noises, movement, lights and even realistic air temperatures so that they can learn to work in all conditions. We were shown various scenarios including a nightclub, an underwater/aquarium scene, the White Horse Hills of Wiltshire, a moving ambulance and my personal favourite, a snowy woodland scene where you can rest your arm on the wall and snow builds up, as if it were collecting on you in real life! Many of the scenarios are interactive, including the back of an ambulance where you can touch a piece of kit (the wall) and it’ll open up and show you how to use it.
The tour of this fantastic building came to an end shortly after we saw the immersive simulation room where we handed over the (real) cheque and thanked the WAA team for our tour.
It’s fantastic to see how donations are used, other than going to the upkeep and running costs of the helicopters, and how it is invested into training the already incredible team at Wiltshire Air Ambulance HQ.
Wiltshire Air Ambulance is a fantastic charity and Hillbrush are incredibly proud to continue to support a local service, funded only through charitable donations - to invest in more training materials and upkeep of these life-saving helicopters and staff. Read more about WAA.
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