It is a milestone in the history of air rescue in German-speaking countries and also EU-wide: DRF Luftrettung is expanding its fleet with Airbus H145 helicopters which have five main rotor blades. Today, the technicians at DRF Luftrettung start equipping the first of five of these helicopters to be delivered this year, for deployment at one of the air rescue bases.
The technical work in the DRF Luftrettung aircraft maintenance hangar at the Karlsruhe / Baden- Baden Airport (FKB) will take approximately one month, followed by test flights and training of the crew, before the aircraft is expected to start its mission of saving lives in April. “With these developments, we consistently pursue our central aim: to save people’s lives tomorrow, who we cannot yet help today,” said a delighted Dr. Krystian Pracz, CEO of DRF Luftrettung.
The non-profit organisation DRF Luftrettung is starting to equip the first helicopter with a five-bladed rotor in German-speaking countries and the whole of the European Union, for deployment at an air rescue base. “We are proud to be the first here. We have deliberately decided to deploy the five-bladed rotor system – as soon as it became available on the market. Because with this investment, we are expanding our possibilities to provide fast and highly professional help, to even more people in need. This corresponds with how we see ourselves, as an innovator that advances air rescue at the highest aviation, medical and technical levels, in Germany and worldwide,” said Dr. Krystian Pracz. Dr. Wolfgang Schoder, Chief Executive Officer of Airbus Helicopters Deutschland, added: “We have worked intensively on the further development, and would like to thank DRF Luftrettung for their confidence in our technology. We share the mission of our partner, to write new chapters in the history of air rescue.”
It is the first of a total of five helicopters of the type H145 with a five-bladed rotor, which the technicians at DRF Luftrettung in Rheinmünster will equip during the course of the year. The foundation for this was laid by a contract concluded between the parties in summer 2019. After the acceptance of the first helicopter by DRF Luftrettung in Donauwörth, the headquarters of the helicopter production of Airbus in Germany, its first flight on 23 December 2020 was to the aircraft maintenance hangar at the DRF Luftrettung Operation Center at the Karlsruhe / Baden-Baden Airport. “With this helicopter, we have a new, state-of-the-art member of our fleet – this was like getting an early Christmas present,” said Dr. Krystian Pracz.
The fifth rotor blade – a major plus for air rescue
With this investment, DRF Luftrettung is further expanding its fleet, because it also wants to remain one of the best air rescue organisations in the world in future. “The five-bladed rotor system means that we can help patients in need even better,” said Dr. Krystian Pracz to explain the decision. Thanks to the new system, the H145 is lighter and offers even higher performance. Thus, the crews can take up to 150 kilogrammes (330 pounds) more useful load on board. This enables better responses to spontaneous requirements at the scene of the mission, such as taking additional medical personnel on board.
If required, the air rescue helicopters can also accommodate additional fuel, and thus fly even longer routes. Overall, the increased performance expands the aviation possibilities, and thus leads to greater safety during missions. “A helicopter constantly fights against the force of gravity. Every kilo less is a benefit – towards a lighter and thus more secure flight,” explained Dr. Krystian Pracz.
In addition, due to the five rotor blades, the helicopter has even better flight stability, which further increases the comfort for the crew as well as for their patients. “This technical progress, and the fleet modernisation which is now commencing, will make a sustainable contribution towards fulfilling our responsibilities.” In addition to the new rotor, the H145 with a five-bladed rotor also has another technical innovation, with WiFi integrated into the cockpit, through which the pilots can import important data directly from a tablet to the on-board computer.
From the aircraft maintenance hangar to deployment in air rescue
Before the new helicopter can enter service at one of the bases nationwide, which is anticipated in April, the interior will be fitted with the necessary equipment at the DRF Luftrettung aircraft maintenance hangar. This includes, for example, fitting the patient stretcher, mountings for syringe pumps and the seats for the medical personnel. In addition, the DRF Luftrettung development operations will certify the weather radar, and test flights will be conducted. Finally, the first crew from an air rescue base will undergo standard training for missions. DRF Luftrettung has not yet announced which base this will be.
Retrofitting the new system in the own aircraft maintenance hangar
In the first quarter of the new year, DRF Luftrettung will also become the first Airbus customer worldwide to jointly carry out retrofitting of an existing aircraft with five rotor blades. The retrofitting must still be finalised in detail together with Airbus, and the required approvals and permits must be obtained. “This process is yet another very good and reliable cooperation with Airbus, and after leading the introduction of the H145 in 2015, we are proud to once again be the first customer of Airbus,” said Dr. Krystian Pracz.
DRF Luftrettung plans to retrofit all of its existing H145 helicopters from four to five rotor blades within the next two years. In future DRF Luftrettung can also offer such retrofitting to external customers if spare capacity is available.
The DRF Group with its headquarters in Filderstadt is one of the largest air rescue organisations in Europe. In 2019, the group carried out a total of 40,738 missions. The crews at 14 of the 35 HEMS bases in Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein are on standby 24/7, and eight HEMS bases provide helicopters with rescue winches.
The Austrian ARA Flugrettung with two HEMS bases was integrated into the DRF Group in 2001, and the Northern HeliCopter GmbH (NHC), which provides air and water rescue services, was acquired in 2019. Furthermore, DRF Luftrettung is also a member of the AP³ Luftrettung network with its HEMS bases in Balzers/Liechtenstein. In addition, DRF Luftrettung also brings back patients from abroad with its own ambulance aircraft.
For the continuous expansion of its vitally important tasks, the non-profit air rescue organisation depends on financial support. Today, DRF e.V. is already supported by well over 400,000 sponsors.