Mario Carretta is DSAA's Unit Chief Pilot. He kindly shares his thoughts about Pegasus and gives an insight into flying the air ambulance.

The team have seen many changes over the last year, particularly on the aviation side. They have learnt how to operate two new aircraft types; Pegasus (the AW169) and the MD902 Explorer that acts as our spare aircraft. Additionally, we have commenced night operations following an extended period of training that started with night vision goggle theory and finished with simulated night missions to unprepared sites. Throughout this time, I have been thoroughly impressed by the professionalism of the team as they managed these changes whilst continuing to provide an amazing service.

Our job as pilots, quite simply, is to use Pegasus to deliver the clinicians and their equipment to the patient as quickly and as safely as possible. We operate as a single pilot operation, which means that both the Doctors and Practitioners are trained as Technical Crew Members. This enables them, amongst other things, to sit in the front left-hand seat and assist the pilot with cockpit duties on the way to the incident. If we take a patient to hospital during the day, then both clinicians will be in the cabin tending to the patient. However, at night we carry an extra practitioner who is assigned permanently to front left hand seat duties. Therefore, the clinicians are not passengers, but are essential aircrew members who must understand and keep current in aviation matters, as well as having to ensure that they are fully prepared to deal with whatever medical situation awaits them on arrival at scene.

The night operating environment is new to us and actions that are easy to achieve in the day take longer during the hours of darkness. We therefore take more time in the planning of a night mission to give us better situational awareness before we arrive at the scene. Using satellite imagery, we look for suitable landing locations and check for hazards such as wires and access points. Prior to this, we would have also searched for the nearest pre-surveyed landing site, just in case the location we have chosen proves to be unsuitable due to things like livestock or tall crops being present. Once overhead the scene, we check again for hazards by using the Trakkabeam light (the white object on Pegasus’s nose).

We are fortunate to have the latest night vision goggles. For those that aren’t familiar, these goggles look like a small pair of binoculars that attach to the front of our flying helmets. They amplify what light is available and project the image onto a small TV screen in front of each eye. Their performance is amazing and allows us to remain operational even on the darkest of nights.

We are extremely fortunate in Dorset and Somerset to have many hospitals that have the ability to accept our aircraft at night. This is a luxury that not all regions have, and we are grateful to the local residents for their continued support and understanding of the need to fly night missions.

Pegasus is faster, has a better endurance and has more power than previous aircraft that I have flown in this role. It also has some excellent features which help single pilot operations, particularly when the weather starts to make flying difficult.

Hopefully I’ve given you a little insight into what we do and that you’ve also picked up on the fact that we are delighted and impressed by the increased capabilities that Pegasus give us!