Flight Structures doing more with less

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Flight Structures in Hamilton recently provided design and certification services for the installation of emergency medical equipment in a BK117B-2 helicopter for the Philips Search and Rescue Trust.

Flight Structures in Hamilton recently provided design and certification services for the installation of emergency medical equipment in a BK117B-2 helicopter for the Philips Search and Rescue Trust.

Flight Structures in Hamilton recently provided design and certification services for the installation of emergency medical equipment in a BK117B-2 helicopter for the Philips Search and Rescue Trust. The Trust uses it as an air ambulance to transfer patients between hospitals and as search and rescue vehicle, evacuating a patient from a trauma scene, and providing them with emergency care while transferring them to a hospital. Jenny Pretorius reports.

The team at Flight Structures had many constraints with this project to fit a lot of equipment into a limited space in such a way that it complies with the requirements of all the stakeholders – the pilots, the patient, the medical personnel, and the New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority.

Flight Structures chief engineer Jon Kerr says this is the second Philips helicopter on which Flight Structures has worked. “The standard of airborne medical care is improving as technology advances, and ongoing development work on rescue helicopters reflects that. Yet the space inside the helicopter remains the same. A patient in a helicopter is often critically ill. So to give this patient the best chance, we have to be creative, do more with and fit more into the space available, literally use every nook and cranny…while making sure fittings are accessible and light weight, ” Mr Kerr says.

The BK117B-2 cabin is 1.2m wide by 2.5m long. This space has to accommodate a stretcher with a patient; monitors; a defibrilator, a medical oxygen system; and seating for six medical crew and their carry-on equipment. Weight as well as space is at a premium so everything the engineers did had to take account of weight constraints. In addition, considering safety all equipment had to be restrained against the regulated flight and crash loads. Aluminium was the material of choice for its high strength-to-weight ratio and its adapability.

Flight Structures designed, manufactured, and certified eight equipment installations in the cabin. These are a sealed cabin floor and stretcher restraint plate; a medical oxygen system; a weather resistant nose door; snow shoes; a wall mounted monitor; a tail boom antenna; six seats; and a rear compartment avionics shelf. Some equipment was developed from previous project knowledge, and the rest were innovated for this aircraft. In the workshop the main plant used in the execution of the project was a CR Onsrud CNC router, while in the office SolidWorks and AutoCad were used for the design.

The basis of the design was the technical specifications of the BK117B-2, with a mix of first-hand observation, pencil and paper, and in some instances design programs to design and built the equipment. Installing it was done the old-fashioned way – take it, see if it fits perfectly and if not, back to the workshop to tweak it a bit more. Philips operates this helicopter from Hamilton Airport, where Flight Structures and a number of the other main companies who worked on the refurbishment are also located.

“We did the design and install simultanoeusly, and everybody involved in the refurbishments worked closely together in an interactive design and build process. It was vertically very integrated, which gave us excellent efficiencies during the process,” Mr Kerr says.

He says to ensure the project complied with civil aviation safety requirements, about 40 percent of the time spent on the refurbishing was “…cutting metal and 60 percent of the time paperwork – drawings, reports, submissions. The paperwork just about weighs double what the installed equipment weighs,” he smiles.

Other companies involved in the refurbishment were Hamilton Aero Avionics; Techair from Auckland; Mattcraft from Hamilton; Rotorcraft from Hamilton; Pacific Aero Coating from Tauranga; and Air Work from Auckland. “It was a pretty extensive project relying on innovative methods using new equipment. We implemented sophisticated solutions, but a lot of it was development work, venturing into the unknown. We all took a bit of a risk, but the risk paid off and the project was concluded successfully,” he says.

Work on the project started in September 2014. The helicopter was unveiled to the public on March 10. Philips Search and Rescue Trust, a non-profit organisation, provides 24-hour emergency search and rescue services to the central North Island.

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