Bond moves closer to night air ambulance operations


EASA has approved a Eurocopter EC135 for night vision goggles operations to ground level.

                           Eurocopter EC135 T2
EASA has approved a Eurocopter EC135 for night vision goggles operations to ground level.

Bond Helicopters Europe (Bond) has confirmed that the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has approved one of its EC135 aircraft for night vision goggles (NVG) operations to ground level, a significant step towards the UK’s first night air ambulance operations.

At present, no air ambulance service in the UK is able to operate helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) flights at night. If there is a serious accident or medical emergency during the night, the emergency services must rely on land-based vehicles, which is not always ideal in remote areas.

Bond has received EASA Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) approval for a night vision imaging system (NVIS) modification to a Eurocopter EC135 helicopter. With this technical approval secured, the next step will be to secure operational approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), a process that is on-going.

In summer 2012, Bond took delivery of a new EC135 for use by East Anglia Air Ambulance. Upon delivery, the aircraft was not certified to fly using night vision goggles (NVG). Bond’s Design & Completions department then undertook the necessary design, certification, installation and testing work to modify and equip the aircraft for NVG operations.

Jeremy Liber, director of design and completions at Bond said “We believe that this is the first time in the UK that an air ambulance aircraft has been equipped for NVIS operations and we are very proud that Bond was able to draw on extensive in-house expertise to make these modifications and obtain EASA approval. We now very much look forward to this technology being used for live, life-saving missions”.

The first step of this process was to install various items of special equipment (including moving maps, engine Usage Monitoring System and a Powerline Detection System) on the aircraft, and to modify standard items of equipment to make them NVIS compatible.

This involved light-laboratory tests on the lit instruments inside the aircraft to ensure that they were emitting only the correct wavelength light, which wouldn’t interfere with the NVG worn by the pilot and crew.

A ‘dark hangar’ test was carried out next. This involved building a special light-tight tent into which the aircraft was placed to simulate ‘starlight’ (i.e. very dark) conditions.

The final step was to prove that the whole installation would work in all light conditions, which entailed normal day, normal night and NVIS flight-testing. This included landing at and take-off from unlit sites.

Bond is part of the Avincis Group.

Photograph: Eurocopter EC135 T2 on day of delivery at Cambridge