EC 145 a niche ‘spaceship’ for select EMS operators
The Eurocopter EC 145 is carving a growing niche among EMS helicopter operators for one main reason: cabin space. The EC 145 features 213 cu ft of cabin space and 50.8 sq ft of tracked flat floor space with enough room, in a pinch, for two patient litters and three medical attendants.
“We needed something beefy enough to carry the [neo-natal] isolette,” said Jim Palafoutas, manager of Allegheny General Hospital’s prehospital operations including LifeFlight. The program currently operates four EC 145s, as well as an MD 900 and an S-76A, and employs 20 pilots.
Neo-natal transports were also a primary reason why Carilion Clinic Life-Guard in Roanoke, Va., chose the 145, according to program director Susan Smith.
For Charleston, W. Va.-based HealthNet, the 145 fulfilled the need to carry an additional medical team member and the extra range to reach alternate airports within its service area, according to CEO Chip Sovick.
Compared to the MD 902, the 145 has 20 more cubic feet of cabin space and carries an additional payload of more than 100 pounds with full fuel. It also carries more fuel and has more range, making it a good choice for single-pilot IFR operations, according to Sovick. HealthNet is not an IFR operation yet, but the 145 could prompt a “mission change and a strong possibility that we will fly it IFR,” said Sovick.
According to American Eurocopter, last year the 145 represented 19 percent (nine of 48) of new helicopters delivered to EMS operators and 47 are currently in service nationwide (excluding the military U.S. Army UH-72A Lakota variant).
Jointly developed with Kawasaki Heavy Industries, the $6.5 million (typically EMS-equipped, 2008 $) EC 145 is not the newest or the cheapest medium twin available on the market. It first flew in 1999 and gained FAA certification in 2002.
The 145’s twin Turbomeca Arriel 1E2 engines (738 shp at takeoff) burn 80 gallons per hour, but do not have full-authority digital engine control (Fadec). Sovick estimates that the 145 will have direct hourly operating costs that are “25 percent more” than the EC 135s HealthNet currently flies and data from Conklin & de Decker appears to verify this. Total and variable cost-per-hour comparisons with the MD 902 are also striking, according to Conklin & de Decker.
The 145’s acquisition price is over $1.5 million more than a comparably equipped EC 135, MD 902 or Bell 427. The 145’s heft also means it climbs slower than the 135 and a lot slower than the 2,350-fpm MD 902.
However, the layout is ideal for EMS operations. The 145 is based on a stretched cabin (to 9.7 feet), wider (by 7 inches to 5.4 feet) and heavier (mtow increased to 7,904 pounds from 7,385 pounds) version of the venerable BK 117 C1, but with upgraded avionics, rotor system and engines. The Thales Meghas integrated, modular avionics system features color LCDs and has been a staple of most Eurocopter single and light-medium twins since 1997. The composite, hingeless main rotor system and titanium hub is taken from the smaller 135 and reduces the 145’s noise signature.
The exposed tail rotor provides more high/hot tail-rotor authority than the 135’s shrouded Fenestron and is elevated 6.6 feet above the ground at its lowest point, enabling safe hot loading through the rear clamshell doors. The stretched fuselage also houses two large side sliding doors.
Another appealing feature of the 145 is the ability to integrate it into mixed fleet operations with 135s as the two share identical cockpits making it easy to cross-train pilots to fly both, according to Carilion’s Smith. Carilion currently operates an EC 135 and will take delivery of a 145 in April that will replace a Bell 412. Carilion operates a 1,200-mission-per-year IFR program and plans on using the 145 for neo-natal transport and scene work, particularly when it is necessary to transport two patients.
Smith said that Carilion’s mechanics also like the 145’s comparative ease of access, inspection and repair.
Carilion will equip its new 145 with night-vision goggles (NVGs) and helicopter terrain awareness and warning system. HealthNet’s 145 also will be equipped with NVGs. “It is the greatest safety thing we can do,” said Sovick. LifeFlight started integrating NVGs into its 145s in November.
LifeFlight has been operating four 145s over the last several years and Palafoutas generally praises the helicopter, but has a few knocks. “We would like to have full Fadec on the aircraft,” he said. There have been a few minor squawks with the generators and the fuel controls, and the air conditioning and heating seems to blow a bit too strong in the back of the aircraft. The cold Pennsylvania winters have required the installation of Tanis heaters on the batteries and there have been some minor parts availability issues. “But overall, things are going really well,” Palafoutas said.