The Maryland State Police unveiled the first of 10 new AgustaWestland AW139 medium twin-engine helicopters it will receive to replace its aging fleet of 11 Eurocopter AS365N Dauphins. The AW139s will be equipped with search-and-rescue, medical and law enforcement equipment as well as a full IFR avionics suite and safety-enhancing equipment such as H-Taws, night-vision-goggle compatibility, radar altimeters, satellite tracking, live video downlink, and cockpit voice and video recorders. The AW139s can perform hoist lifts while operating on a single engine.
“This new helicopter and the others that will follow represent an incredible improvement to public safety capabilities in Maryland,” State Police Col. Marcus Brown said. “They will provide a safer aircraft for our crews, with more room and equipment for our flight paramedics to care for the injured. I thank [Maryland] Governor [Martin] O’Malley who, with the support of the General Assembly, fulfilled his promise to the State Police, our public safety partners, and to the people of Maryland. These new aircraft will be put to good use and will, along with our EMS partners, continue the amazing lifesaving response and care Maryland is known for.”
The 10 new helicopters cost $121.7 million and are funded by a special fee on state license plates. The State Police began its helicopter medevac program in March 1970 in cooperation with Dr. R Adams Cowley and the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center and has flown more than 138,000 patients since its inception. The helicopters will become operational early next year after pilots and paramedics undergo training on the aircraft.
Trooper 2 Accident
The push for new state police helicopters intensified following the crash of the state police’s “Trooper 2” Dauphin while attempting an instrument approach to Andrews AFB on Sept. 27, 2008. The helicopter crashed in a District Heights park, killing the commercial pilot, a paramedic, a field provider and one of the two patients aboard. The NTSB faulted the state police for deficiencies in pilot training and maintenance practices, noting that the accident pilot had logged only 1.9 hours of actual instrument experience between June 2006 and September 2008. The state police subsequently implemented training and procedures compliant with Part 135 standards. The state of Maryland later filed a $4 million suit against the FAA alleging controller negligence related to the crash. The suit alleged that controllers provided the pilot with outdated weather information, denied his request for an ASR approach and failed to provide radar guidance and terrain warnings.
In 2010, the state police signed a deal to purchase six new AW139s with options for six more, later exercising four of those options. The helicopters are being produced at AgustaWestland’s Philadelphia plant. While Maryland’s helicopter program has widespread public and political support, the selection of the AW139 was controversial because of the helicopter’s size and expense, drawing bipartisan criticism in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. American Eurocopter filed a formal protest in 2009, later denied by the state transportation department, claiming that the bid specifications “preordained” the results.