Conversion and Maintenance issues for these special mission aircraft
By Joe Escobar
In the hustle and bustle world we live in, many people are getting tired of the congested living accommodations and dense populations found in cities. Some of them are choosing to move to more rural areas of the country. As the population moves more towards this country living, the distance from major medical facilities increases. In many cases, hospitals have not kept up with the rapid population migration. Because of this, the need for medical helicopter transportation has seen a significant rise.
Only a few decades ago, medical transport helicopters were a rarity. Some considered them a luxury – available only to the wealthy. Now they are a way of life. These specially converted aircraft now service almost every major city.
Now that the need for medivac services has increased, the issue of converting a standard helicopter to a medical transport is one that many companies face. Some of them are choosing to do the work themselves; others are contracting the work out. In addition to trying to decide who will do the conversion, these companies are bombarded with a wide range of medical equipment installation options. Many items need to be installed, including medical pumps, monitoring equipment, and oxygen supply. Other needed equipment may include a searchlight, GPS system, or enhanced radio system. Whatever the final equipment tally is, it is going to be a tedious process to perform the job.
Contracting out the conversion
There are several reasons companies choose to contract the installations. These may include lack of resources, lack of trained personnel, or not wanting to tackle such a time consuming endeavor. Whatever the reason, there are quite a few companies that offer conversion services. A fairly new company in this market is Helicopter Specialties Inc. (HSI) in Janesville, WI. HSI performs contract installations for medivac operators. They also offer limited technical support on systems. The company has just completed its inaugural conversion contract. They took a helicopter that was previously used for oil rig transport and completely converted it into a medical transport helicopter.
HSI chose to perform the majority of the alterations necessary for the medical conversion themselves. About the only STC kit they bought was for the floor installation. The new floor is a pre-formed floor designed for ease of cleaning and the ability to prevent biomedical fluids from seeping into the bilges of the helicopter. Other than the floor, HSI had to fabricate different structural components in order to facilitate the installation of all the equipment. A support platform had to be designed and installed in the lower aft fuselage in order to install the medical pumps. A unit was also built to house the liquid oxygen system. The battery had to be relocated in order to accommodate the additional equipment in the nose section. Needless to say, at the end of the process, there was a large stack of 337’s and supporting documentation.
Jim Freeman, owner of HSI, says that one very important issue when considering performing a contract conversion is communication. "You need to make sure the customer is clear about what he wants" says Freeman. It helps to be as informed as possible when suggesting components to install. Some items may cost less money at the time of installation, but will be nothing but a headache and money pit in the long run. It has been said that price is only an issue in the absence of value. This holds true in medical installations. This is not to say that the most expensive product is always the best; the customer just needs to be well informed of all the products available to make the choice that will best fit his company needs.