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Mayo Clinic presents next generation of medical helicopters

Officials presented three new H145-D3 model aircraft going in service in Minnesota

By John Molseed

ROCHESTER, Minn. — The new aircraft that will make up Mayo Clinic’s medical helicopter fleet are two generations newer than their predecessors.

They are more powerful, smoother in flight and, if you have a discerning ear, the shrouded tail rotor makes the new aircraft quieter.

“If you listen, you won’t hear that slap the other ones have,” said Todd Lepper, director of air operations at Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service.

Mayo Clinic is the first organization in the U.S. to press these H145-D3 model aircraft into service.

Mayo Clinic officials introduced two of the three new aircraft to the media on Monday, Feb. 5, 2024. One will be based in Rochester. The other two are stationed in Mankato and Eau Claire. For the pilots who will operate them, the differences are noticeable.

“It is so much smoother than the other ones,” said Pat Hammann, chief pilot of Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service.

The five-blade rotor assembly and state-of-the-art transmission let it hover even if one of the two 1,100 horsepower engines cuts out. The electronic control systems, while complicated, do much of the work for a trained pilot.

“It practically flies itself,” Hammann said.

Nonetheless, pilots will train for up to three weeks to be certified to operate the aircraft and will need an additional week to operate at night and four weeks of extra training to fly the aircraft on instruments.

Mayo has had one of the three new ones in service since May 2023. The second came online in January. A third was blessed in a ceremony Monday afternoon by the sisters of St. Francis.

The medical interiors on the aircraft are similar to what’s onboard the current Mayo One helicopters.

They carry external defibrillators, ventilators, monitors, a liquid oxygen system, blood analysis equipment and several units of blood and platelets on board. Each one is a flying ICU, said Kate Arms, operations manager for Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service.

The greater carrying capacity will allow for more training opportunities for critical care nurses and paramedics who crew the air ambulance calls. Like piloting the craft, becoming a crew member takes training. Paramedics need more than five years of street-level experience before they’re eligible for air ambulance duty, Arms said.

The more powerful aircraft better equip MAS to carry the tiniest passengers who come with the heaviest payload. Infants are transported in incubators, or isolates, which give them pressurized and controlled environments. That makes transporting them by helicopter as safe as being in the NICU or PICU departments in a hospital. It also means a heavier payload.

Overall, flights carrying infants come with an extra 725 pounds of equipment, Hammann said.

The new aircraft can fly as far away as Fargo, North Dakota — 323 miles away.

Each year, Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service transports 1,800 patients via helicopter and 200 patients via its one air ambulance airplane. Of the 2,000 patients received at Saint Marys each year by helicopter, 1,500 arrive through Mayo One, while the other 500 are transported by other air ambulance services.

Anyone with good eyes who catches a glimpse of the new helicopter will see the tail numbers on the new aircraft are numbered to honor Dr. W.W. Mayo and Mother Alfred with the final letters of the registration being WM and MA. The number, 483, references the four founders of Mayo Clinic and the tornado that led to its founding in 1883.

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