A selection of Bristow aircraft photographed over and around Dover.
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Bristow SAR Operations, Lydd: 03.10.15
Bristow Helicopters is understandably proud to have been awarded the UK SAR contract which commenced in April this year and works in partnership with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) to deliver a world class SAR capability. There are ten UK SAR regional centres, the one here at Lydd went live in July. The financial investment is eye watering, on average it costs somewhere in the region of £7 million to set up each SAR centre in addition to the cost of each rotary aircraft coming in at somewhere around £15 million. It is a transitional period for the teams as the current rotary A139 aircraft are to be replaced with the slightly larger A189 model in the not too distant future. The A189 will have a greater capacity which will enable an additional payload of both equipment and personnel, particularly useful when transporting fire fighting crews to incidents at sea for example. The Bristow crews are highly trained and experienced, many from a military background and are certificated in a range of areas of experise. The Winchmen (and women) are also trained paramedics which enable them to administer life saving techniques on board, in the air, whilst on route to the hospital. Much of the training at the moment involves flights to these Helicopter Landing Sites (HLS), very often using Night Vision Goggles (NVG).
The two aircraft at Lydd are G-CIJW and G-CIJX, they are twin engined, five bladed machines featuring a retractable undercarriage and are both examples of the current AW139 model, packed with electronic systems that are bewildering to the uninitiated like me, even though I used to fly many years ago! They can be flown by just one pilot but are more usually operated by two, sitting side by side, many of the controls duplicated both for ease of operation and also as a safeguard against the rare likelihood of systems failures or other operational challenges. It is perhaps true to say that the pilot has almost been engineered out of the all glass cockpit, but not so in the SAR mode operated by Bristow. There is a range of automated modes allowing, at times, the aircraft to fly itself. The capability of these aircraft is, quite frankly, mind boggling. Outside, there is Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR), thermal imaging camera technology and a trakkabeam searchlight that will give you a suntan from a fair distance away. Suffice to say that in pencil beam mode, it can’t be used below 50 feet AGL (Above Ground Level) as it is likely to set something alight! The winch equipment incorporates a dual system should one fail or is required during a rescue situation. The main compartment features a wet floor system which prevents seawater from a casualty penetrating into the structure and causing corrosion and fatigue. It’s like a paddling pool which can be un-velcroed upon landing and the water drained out!
Below: G-CIJW together with Dover Lifeboat during their impressive Air SAea Rescue demonstration at the 2015 Dover Community Regatta.