We spoke to Captain Kevin Goddard, one of our pilots at the Marden base who gave us a unique insight into the challenges the crew faces throughout a normal working day.
For me the working day starts at 07:00 and finishes at 19:00; the helicopter itself is officially active as of 07:30. At some point in the near future this routine will be changing slightly to allow the Marden crew to provide cover for the Redhill base during their crew changeover period.
Between 07:00 to 07:30 every morning it is my responsibility to check the serviceability of the aircraft. This includes monitoring all the crucial components of the air craft such as oil levels as well as well as checking the interior of the helicopter.
Before leaving the ground for any flight, it’s essential for the pilot to calibrate the weight and balance of the helicopter, which includes all the equipment and the crew. This requires regular weighing of the crew as well as the copious apparatus needed for each potential emergency.
As pilots, we also keep a very close eye on the weather conditions. We are able to monitor this accurately using a weather radar as well as the official met office weather reports which are updated constantly.
Every morning, it’s imperative to check the NOTAM, or Notice to Airmen which is a bulletin filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the safety of the flight. This could be anything from an air show or the temporary erection of an obstacle near an airfield.
All of this information is digested and passed on to the crew during the morning briefing which takes place at 07:30. During this briefing, potential emergency training is carried out. A different situation of danger is enacted and the best ways to react to the situation are practised.
Each day we must also carry out an engine compressor wash, a requirement of our engine’s warranty. This is due to the UK being a saline environment, particularly given our proximity to the coast; any salt could be potentially disastrous for our engine. The process involves dry-running the engine, feeding water in the front to wash the engines and then running the engine again to dry it.
From 07:30 until 18:45 the crew are entirely reactive to the call-out phone through which the emergencies that require our attention are reported. We always aim to be airborne within 3 or 4 minutes of receiving the call and we could be called out to anywhere in any of the 4 counties.
Usually we take breaks and have some time for lunch but we have to be constantly vigilant. Our breaks are immediately abandoned if there is a call-out (one Sunday, I didn’t eat my lunch until 7 p.m.!)
When we arrive at the emergency situation, as the pilot of the aircraft generally I am on crowd control, securing the aircraft and ensuring the safety of bystanders. I occasionally get a chance to talk to the public about the service we operate and about some of the fundraising work required to sustain it. Sometimes an extra pair of hands is needed and I might be required to get involved at the scene, carrying medical supplies and helping wherever possible.
Above all I believe that the Air Ambulance is a vital service and I am proud to be a part of it.