BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. - As part of the Army’s on-going service-wide transformation, its aerial medical capabilities have been enhanced with the addition of a new piece of equipment. The Soldiers of C Company, 3rd Battalion, 126th Aviation Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, were one of the first units to receive the Army’s newest air ambulance, the HH-60M Blackhawk, in December 2008.
Since the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter was first introduced to the U.S. military in the 1980s, it has filled roles ranging from air assault combat missions to cargo and troop transport to medical evacuation air ambulances, according to Army Staff Sgt. Tim Messar, a Barre, Mass., native who serves as a Blackhawk crew chief and detachment noncommissioned officer-in-charge for C Co.
“The (UH-60As) are over 20 years old,” he added, “we deployed with them but they’re tired; they’re old.”
The HH-60M Blackhawk hospital helicopter was redesigned to incorporate built-in features specific to the medical evacuation mission carried out by the Soldiers of C Co., said Warrant Officer Alex Engelson, a Framingham, Mass., native who serves as a Blackhawk pilot and production control officer for C Co.
In contrast to the current UH-60A Blackhawk which is used Army-wide for a variety of missions to include aerial medical evacuations, the new HH-60M has been specifically designed for the mission of medical evacuation, increasing its lifesaving potential, he added.
Some of the new features built into the HH-60M include: more powerful engines and longer rotor blades to increase movement efficiency; built-in litters and medical devices, such as oxygen and suction hook-ups for superior trauma assistance; and an all-digital “glass” cockpit and autopilot flight mode to assist with ease of use for the pilots.
By increasing the effectiveness of movement and maneuvering, the medical evacuation team can enter, assist and evacuate a casualty with greater speed, which adds time for treatment during the critical first hour of care a patient requires.
“Minutes can save a life,” said Messar. “If we can cut two minutes by the time we get in the air, cut five minutes getting to the destination, cut another 10 or 15 minutes getting (the casualty) to the hospital, we’ll save more lives – bottom line.”
The new helicopter in use by the Soldiers of C Co. is so new, its engine only has a total of six flight hours since its arrival to the unit, including its delivery, he added.
While improved transportation performance can add crucial minutes to a casualty’s life, the redesigned cabin where the patient rides makes treatment easier to conduct by the medics onboard by increasing space for them to operate.
“The configuration will give us better access to critical parts of the body like the head and chest,” said Army Sgt. Paul Dubenetski, a Charlton, Mass., native who serves as a flight medic with C Co., “where as in the other aircraft, it was much more difficult to access those parts.”
Since trauma care systems, such as oxygen and suction, are built into the interior of the helicopter it decreases the amount of gear the medics have to take with them, such as spare oxygen tanks, increasing movement room in the cabin, he added.
The new HH-60M Blackhawk is quickly gaining favor among the pilots, crew chiefs, and medics, and is sure to gain favor with the wounded warriors who have yet to been saved by it. Despite the leaps in technology, one critical component will always remain the same in this lifesaving operation.
“It’s just equipment, as great as it is, it’s going to be the people who really make the biggest difference,” Dubenetski said. “You can have the best ambulance and the newest equipment, but it’s not anything unless you put the right people behind it, and I think we have the right people.”
The company’s newest addition is just the first of six aircraft the unit is scheduled to receive; and in 2010, the medics, pilots and crew of C Co. will put the new aircraft to the test and give the HH-60M the chance to help save lives during their next deployment in support of the Global War on Terror.