May 30—Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service recently debuted a new medical helicopter stationed in Mankato.
Mankato is Mayo's first site to utilize the H145-D3 model copter, two generations newer than what it previously had.
Crews began using the new aircraft May 25 out of its Mankato Regional Airport hangar. As of Monday, it had transported 11 patients.
The latest, higher-powered model has updated safety and rotor systems and can handle more weight on emergency calls, said chief pilot Pat Hammann.
"We're able to basically take the entire crew, all their equipment, the patient and still have a full tank of gas," he said. "That was something that we haven't had."
The older model's lower weight thresholds meant copters could only carry so much fuel at a time. More fuel on board can improve response times, said pilot Kai Schutte.
"Now we can have more fuel on board the aircraft and know we can still go over to a hospital, pick up, and go on a longer flight where we don't need to refuel," he said.
Schutte and Hammann are two of the five Mayo Clinic Ambulance Service helicopter pilots in Mankato. The total crew also includes four paramedics and seven nurses.
A typical emergency response involves one pilot, nurse and paramedic on board. Most transports they do are from one hospital to another, with a Mankato to Rochester flight taking about 35 minutes.
Crews work 12-hour shifts out of the hangar, which has a kitchen, living room and sleeping quarters on site. Once an emergency call comes in, they go through a safety protocol before lifting off.
After an adjustment period to the new equipment, Schutte said, the team was getting off the ground in short order during the aircraft's inaugural weekend. Schutte and crew had a five-transport shift over the weekend.
"By the end of the shift we were down to about that 10-minute range, which is what we're looking for," he said.
In some cases the helicopter crew needs to fly to a crash site or land near a home to bring a stroke or heart attack patient to a hospital. A patient's needs would determine whether a helicopter or ground transport is best suited to get them to an emergency room.
Hammann, Schutte, paramedic Andrea Forster and nurse Heather Hilke showcased the helicopter's new capabilities Tuesday before Schutte and Forster hopped in for a demonstration flight from the airport to the hospital. The hospital's ongoing construction project includes a new helipad.
As a pilot, Schutte said the new autopilot system is one of the more noticeable improvements on the new aircraft. Once engaged, the system allows the pilot to focus on other safety considerations, while cameras in the back, another new feature, enable viewing of the crew loading a patient on board once on the ground.
The new helicopter is also higher-powered, Hammann said, improving safety when navigating through difficult weather conditions.
"The engines produce about 23% more power than we had previously," he said.
Two more helicopters are on track to join Mayo's fleet this year, stationed in Eau Claire and Rochester.
Follow Brian Arola @BrianArola
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