Rescuing People everywhere and in all weathers
Every year, bad weather currently prevents around 600 people in Switzerland from receiving emergency assistance from the air. Rega wants to change this situation and in future help even more people in distress. It has therefore launched a series of measures that will enable its helicopters to also be able to fly in fog and falling snow.
IFR training in the flight simulator
In spring 2013, Rega’s new simulator for its AgustaWestland Da Vinci mountain helicopters went into operation, representing a key milestone in Rega’s Vision. In order to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR), helicopter pilots must complete between 400 and 500 hours of intensive theoretical training, as well as a minimum of 55 hours of flight training. All its helicopter pilots fly around 50 training hours in the flight simulator and a further 20 training hours in the helicopter. Even after receiving their IFR licence, Rega pilots (and paramedics) are required to complete corresponding exercises in the flight simulator every three months.
REMICO (Rega Mission Control)
With the installation of new operating devices in all of its helicopters, Rega’s large-scale REMICO project was finally brought to a close at the end of 2014. The project, which has already proved to be a great success, also has a decisive impact on the Rega Vision; the modernised radio network and the operating devices in the helicopters allow a better transfer of data between the Operations Centre and the cockpit. Now the mission coordinates can be transmitted directly into the cockpit. In future, the setting up of Rega’s own weather stations should enable weather data to be transmitted both visually and in code form.
Retrofit programme for the Da Vinci helicopters
While the six Eurocopter EC 145 aircraft deployed by Rega are already equipped with IFR-compatible cockpits, the mountain helicopters needed to be upgraded. At the end of 2014, the last AgustaWestland Da Vinci was fitted with a second navigation computer and a second GPS/SBAS input device and subsequently certified for IFR flights by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation (FOCA).
The purchase of an all-weather helicopter with a de-icing system is currently being examined within the framework of a project entitled Icebird. As such a system weighs around 100 kilograms, the helicopter must still be light enough to land on hospital helipads and at accident sites. Therefore, Rega is looking for solutions to this problem in collaboration with various helicopter manufacturers. In addition, potential successors for the fleet of EC 145 lowland helicopters are being evaluated. Here, too, suitability for all-weather missions and IFR flights are a key consideration.
Weather stations and weather data
In order to be able to operate all-weather flights, up-to-date weather data needs to be available around the clock. Without this information, IFR flights are not permitted. Rega's latest major project, known as "Thor", aims to make more weather data available for helicopter operations. In addition, approximately 60 new weather stations and webcams are to be installed all over Switzerland. However, the project does not just stop at collecting data. Ways need to be found to transmit this information directly into the cockpit - so that our pilots can immediately take advantage of this virtually up-to-the-minute weather data.
Rega's vision envisages being able to fly a helicopter to any accident site in rough terrain, even in the most adverse weather conditions. This requires systems that allow pilots to "see" risks and obstacles even when visibility is poor. These are known as "synthetic vision systems". Rega had the opportunity to test a system produced by the company, Elbit, on its mountain helicopters in autumn 2014. In addition, within the framework of an EU project, two Rega pilots travelled to England to gain initial experience in the simulator with a so-called "head mounted display". These tests allow a comprehensive evaluation to be made for the possible future use of such systems in Rega helicopters.
IFR flight routes for helicopters
Thanks to satellite-based navigation, in future it will be possible to perform flights according to instrument flight rules independently of fixed installations on the ground. A project known as GNSS Low Flight Network (LFN) has been launched to enable such flights to become reality. The Swiss Air Force and Skyguide air navigation service have been working together with Rega for a number of years to develop this network and introduce the corresponding flight approach procedures. The idea is that the helicopter will fly by autopilot along a route stored in the on-board computer, rather like on a motorway. This procedure signifies a considerable increase in safety. These IFR flight routes aim to connect airports, airfields and in particular hospitals with each other.