Helicopters Magazine

Features Commercial EMS
Angels From Above

July 7, 2010  By Peter Pigott

Throughout history, various cultures have depicted goddesses and angels swooping down to rescue and care for the critically injured. Soteria, for example, was the Greek goddess of safety and deliverance from harm.

Throughout history, various cultures have depicted goddesses and angels swooping down to rescue and care for the critically injured. Soteria, for example, was the Greek goddess of safety and deliverance from harm. Today, in many parts of the world, and soon to be in the provinces of Ontario and Alberta, those angels and goddesses take the form of AgustaWestland AW-139s.

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FB Heliservices in the U.K. uses the AgustaWestland AW-139 to
support search-and-rescue operations. (Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland)


And there’s a chance the Canadian connection with the AW-139 could grow even more. The aircraft is a worthy option for the Canadian Coast Guard, which will be, in-the-not-to-distant future, renewing its aging fleet. South Korea, Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago, Estonia, Cyprus, UAE, Pakistan, Japan and the United Kingdom are all using AW-139s in maritime, SAR and/or EMS roles with a high degree of success.

History lesson
The development of the reliable AW-139 is an intriguing story. On Sept. 8, 1998, the Finmeccanica company Agusta, and Bell Helicopters, agreed to establish a joint venture to develop two new aircraft: the BA-609 tiltrotor and the AB-139. The potential existed that the latter would be built at the Bell plant at Mirabel, Que. for North American and Pacific Rim customers, however, four years after the AB-139’s first flight in 2001, Bell withdrew from the project.


Agusta forged ahead, and the helicopter was redesignated the AW-139. The development risk was spread around a number of international companies including Pratt & Whitney in Canada, Honeywell in the U.S., Poland’s PZL Swidnik, Germany’s Liebherr, and Japan’s Kawasaki.

The AW-139 was built at Agusta’s Final Assembly Line in Vergiate, Italy, with a second assembly line set up at the Agusta Aerospace Corporation plant in Philadelphia, Pa. The first AW-139 from the U.S. facility was delivered in December 2006, and a second assembly line was added in February 2008. Parts and components for both lines come from the same sources and the aircraft are identical whether assembled in Italy or in the U.S.

A new-generation medium twin-turbine helicopter with inherent multi-role capability, the AW-139 can carry up to 15 passengers at high speed. Its Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turbines, together with a state-of-the-art five-bladed main rotor, deliver a high cruise speed and an outstanding power-to-weight ratio.

The engines with full authority digital engine control (FADEC) have a maximum continuous power of 1,531 horsepower (1,142 kilowatts) each and give a maximum cruise speed of 290 kilometres per hour and a maximum range (without reserves) of 750 kilometres. Due to its power reserve, safe flight is ensured with one engine inoperative (OEI) at maximum take-off weight.

The AW-139 can climb at a rate of 10.9 metres/second and its maximum and cruise speeds are 310 km/h and 306 km/h respectively. Its maximum range and service ceiling are 1,250 km and 6,096 m and endurance is five hours, 56 minutes. The machine weighs approximately 3,622 kg and the maximum take-off weight is 6,400 kg. Because it is a brand new helicopter, it comes as no surprise that its leading-edge technology includes a Honeywell Primus Epic fully integrated avionics system, a four-axis digital Automatic Flight Control Systems (AFCS) and large flat-panel colour displays in the cockpit.

Multi-purpose workhorse

The AW-139 is used worldwide for a wide range of applications including executive/VIP transport, EMS/SAR (emergency medical service/search and rescue), off-shore support, fire fighting, law enforcement, paramilitary and military roles. Depending on the configuration, the passengers are transported on crashworthy seats in three rows of five, two forward facing, one rearward facing, in an unobstructed cabin with flat floor with a flight-accessible baggage compartment at the rear of the cabin. Alternatively, the interior can hold six stretchers and four attendants in medevac configuration.

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The AW-139 stands out for the Spanish maritime safety agency SASEMAR. (Photo courtesy
of AgustaWestland)


The aircraft has a plug-type sliding door on each side of its cabin, with separate crew doors to allow easy access to the cabin. The large baggage compartment (3.4 m) is accessible from the cabin and externally through large doors on both sides.

CHC Helicopters is a prominent operator of AW-139s and currently has 19 aircraft in operation, 12 on order and options on another 22. Brian Clegg, VP flight operations for CHC, maintains there will be a healthy market for AW-139 operations in the future.

“CHC has deployed its AW-139s primarily in oil and gas roles and we are very satisfied with the operational and safety record of the aircraft,” Clegg says. “It’s a fully automated, new technology aircraft with good range capability and excellent performance.”

CHC operates two AW-139s on a long-term contract for the Victoria police in Australia and three AW-139s for the Maritime and Coast guard Agency in the U.K. “These are all in a SAR/EMS configuration,” says Clegg. “The choice of AW-139s was made by the Victoria police after an extensive review and the feedback is they have been performing very satisfactorily since their introduction last year when they replaced Bell 412s.”

Home-grown appeal
In Canada, two non-profit charitable organizations, STARS and Ornge, will be using AW-139s next year. The Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) has flown more than 18,500 missions with Eurocopter BK-117s since 1985. And while it’s more expensive to operate a rotary air ambulance than a fixed-wing air ambulance, one of the helicopter’s key advantages is it can transport a patient from bed to bed, eliminating the need for transfers by ground ambulance to and from airports. Also, a helicopter response is dedicated primarily to critically ill or injured patients in remote area access.

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The Korean Coast guard is one of many countries
around the world employing the services of the AW-139.
(Photo courtesy of Agusta Westland)


“I can say STARS’ goals were established to find an aircraft that would fly further, faster, have greater patient capacity and de-icing, and eventually hoisting capability,” says Cameron Heke, senior public relations advisor for STARS. The AW-139’s higher cruise speed allows for reduced response times, which are vital to the survival of the patient: lifesaving and time-sensitive treatment can begin sooner, as they reach the necessary trauma centre earlier. STARS hopes that, in addition to saving 15 minutes for every hour flown, the new AW-139 helicopters, funded by individual and corporate donations, will set a new standard with in-air patient care and have better all-weather flying capabilities.

Ontario connection
The Ontario Air Ambulance Services changed its name to “Ornge” in 2005, and the name is not an acronym – it was chosen to reflect the distinctive colour of the aircraft. Over the years, Ornge has received excellent service from its S-76s fleet but felt Sikorsky did not have a replacement product available. That’s where the AW-139s come in. Ten new AW-139s were purchased in 2008 to replace the aging fleet.

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Powered by strong engines and state-of-the-art rotors,
the AW-139 boasts multiple uses for the U.K.’s Maritime and
Coastguard Agency. (Photo courtesy of AgustaWestland)


“Ornge went through a rigorous procurement process and issued an RFI (request for information) with pricing,” says Jennifer Tracy, director of corporate communications for Ornge. “We also hired a fairness advisor to monitor the process. The main priorities for Ornge were cabin size, range, dual pilot IFR and WAAS/GPS. Ornge undertook the most strenuous analysis not only of what aircraft are appropriate for our needs, but as importantly, the companies behind those aircraft.

“The AW-139s were the most technologically advanced rotor-wing aircraft in the industry at the time. Its competitors had no known icing capability, less range, much smaller cabin and were incapable of carrying the weight Ornge requires. The AW-139 will give us the additional horsepower we require during hot and humid days and will also provide us with the margin of safety should we encounter icing conditions.”

So, what did the Ornge pilots think of the new helicopter?

“The feedback we have received from the pilots,” says Tracy, “is they love the AW-139 because of its incredible power and capability,
leading-edge technology and it has one of the most advanced diagnostic maintenance programs available in the industry today.”

New horizons?
Having conquered much of the world with its AW-139, AgustaWestland would be a strong contender in any EMS/SAR competition. Whether with STARS or Ornge, or the Canadian Coast Guard, the AW-139 is destined to be the present-day version of Soteria, the goddess of safety and deliverance from harm.


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