Life at LifeFlight as a Helicopter Co-pilot
RACQ LifeFlight Rescue currently has nine medically equipped helicopters on standby 24/7, 365 days a year. They don’t fly themselves, it takes a skilled professional to control these machines to fly our crews and patients safely to where they need to go. Meet Alex, one of LifeFlight’s own AW139 Co-pilots based in Brisbane.
As a LifeFlight co-pilot no day is ever the same. At the beginning of each shift we get the aircraft ready, check the weather and brief the crew. Then we wait for a call, which normally doesn’t take long. Every day is different, and each day can take us to different parts of Queensland where someone needs our help.
There can be days or nights where you spend hours waiting for that phone to ring so we use that time to catch up on admin work or complete upcoming training. Other times you spend the whole twelve hour shift, and then some, transporting patient after patient barely having time to eat. The majority of missions for the Brisbane base are transferring patients from regional hospitals to one of the major Brisbane hospitals. It takes on average 4-6 hours per mission from the time we receive the phone call to when we arrive back to the base. Sometimes we can be tasked on back to back missions only pausing to refuel the helicopter then flying to the next stop.
One of the biggest challenges we face as helicopter pilots is the weather. It is constantly changing and impacts on how we do our job. Our helicopters are equipped to be able to fly in all sorts of weather but because we are transporting sick and injured patients, their safety is our highest priority. For example if we are transporting a patient with respiratory complications we need to fly at a certain altitude so that their lungs are not damaged due to the air pressure, it is similar if we are transferring a premature baby where their lungs may not have fully formed yet.
The Brisbane base crew is typically formed by two pilots, a LifeFlight critical care doctor, and a critical care flight nurse. As pilots, we work closely with the LifeFlight critical care doctor and flight nurse for each mission working as a team to ensure we transport our patients safely and as quickly as possible.
Many missions we complete are time critical, where the patient needs to get to specialist care as quickly as possible.
The best part of the job for me is definitely the flying along with the fact we are flying with a purpose. The feeling you get when you meet the people you have helped is indescribable, it is so rewarding seeing how much you have impacted someone’s life and their loved ones. The hardest part though has to be going to missions where there are children involved, especially now I have my own two kids.
Becoming a rescue helicopter pilot is hard work but worth it in the end. For anyone wanting to become a rescue helicopter pilot hard work and determination is important, as is researching the pathway you wish to take to get there.