Vermont Army Guard flies latest medevac helicopter

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Army’s newest medevac helicopter is seeing action in Iraq with an aviation company from the Vermont Army National Guard.

C Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment deployed in November with 12 HH-60M helicopters, the latest medical variant of the Army’s Black Hawk airframe.

The unit is the first to receive the HH-60M and is serving as a test-bed for the aircraft.

In addition to its medevac mission, the unit’s crews are working with representatives from Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. to work through the kinks of the aircraft’s new systems.

It is already popular with the unit’s crew members.

"It’s like going from a ’67 Buick to jumping into a brand new Cadillac," Sgt. David Diminico, an HH-60M crewmember, said.

The aircraft features more powerful engines, improved rotor blades, electronic instruments, digital displays and an autopilot feature.

It also has new features that enhance its medical mission. These features include an integrated EKG machine, an oxygen generator, electronically controlled litters, an infrared system that can locate patients by their body heat and a built-in, external hoist.

"There’s a lot of the stuff built into this aircraft that we used to have to carry out to the aircraft," Diminico said. "We’ve got everything we need in one aircraft, and we can get off of the ground pretty quick."

And that means the world to medevac crews, he said. On an urgent call, crews must take off in under 15 minutes; every minute carrying and assembling gear adds to that time.

With the HH-60M, C Company recently made a mission in under seven minutes.

"When you’re talking about our flight medics getting there, 30 seconds can make a huge difference," Diminico said.

In addition to its new systems, the HH-60M has several aesthetic, yet functional improvements.

The aircraft’s digital-age look extends from the cockpit to the crew area, setting the HH-60M apart from some of its more rugged looking predecessors.

The crew chiefs’ seats have moved to the very back of the aircraft, making room for up to six patients and a myriad of technological gadgets. The crew can easily access litters and other medical equipment from their seats.

From the outside, one of the more noticeable differences is the absence of open crew chief windows. The crews now use plastic bubbles protruding from the aircraft’s doors. The sealed windows help the crews maintain a sterile environment, Diminico said.