German aeromedical provider DRF Luftrettung has put the world’s first H145 helicopter to be retroactively modified from four to five main rotor blades into operation at its base in Villingen-Schwenningen in Germany. Technicians from DRF Luftrettung, together with the manufacturer Airbus Helicopters, performed this first retrofit of a four-bladed H145 at the OEM's facility in Donauwörth. DRF's first new build five-bladed H145 entered service at Pattonville airport near Stuttgart in March.
DRF Luftrettung was the first helicopter operator in the world to convert an H145 from a four-blade to a five-blade rotor system and is now serving the air rescue service at the Villingen-Schwenningen station. This will replace the H145 with four-blade rotor previously used there. The process associated with the conversion, the so-called retrofit, was developed together with the manufacturer Airbus Helicopters at its location in Donauwörth as part of this first conversion. It now serves as a sample process for all further conversions.
“With the decision to retrofit the existing H145 helicopters in our fleet to the five-blade rotor system, we are pursuing one of our most important goals: increasing the capabilities of our crews and thus also to further improve our patients' chances of survival and recovery,” says Peter Huber, board member of DRF Luftrettung. “Helicopter technology is constantly developing, and we never stand still in order to be able to help people in need even faster and better. We are therefore pleased to be able to carry out this very first conversion from four to five rotor blades in cooperation with Airbus Helicopters and to be the first operator to be able to gain our own experience with the newly installed rotor.”
With its commissioning in Villingen-Schwenningen, the innovations of the modified helicopter will now benefit the only night flight station in Baden-Württemberg. The retrofitted H145 can fly with a higher payload compared to its predecessor with the same performance. This allows the crew to react better to spontaneous requirements at the scene, because they can, for example, take on additional medical personnel. In addition, thanks to the fifth rotor blade, the H145 is even quieter in the air and thus offers patients and crew greater flight comfort. In addition to the rotor blades and the rotor mast, other helicopter parts will be replaced as part of the retrofitting and renewals will be carried out, which will lead to additional improvements. This includes the modification of the main transmission, the replacement of batteries and software updates.
All DRF Luftrettung locations where an H145 is used will benefit from the advantages of this conversion in the future. The air rescue organisation plans to convert all of its H145 helicopters from four to five rotor blades within the next three years. The technical work required for this will in future be carried out in DRF Luftrettung's own maintenance facility at its main operations centre at Karlsruhe/Baden-Baden airport. It will also offer external customers the H145 retrofit in the future.
In December 2020, DRF Luftrettung welcomed its first H145 with a five-blade rotor from Airbus Helicopters' production line. The first in the German-speaking area, it has been performing air rescue missions in the Stuttgart region as ‘Christoph 51’ since March 2021.
The modified H145 rescue helicopter stationed at the Schwarzwald-Baar-Klinikum Villingen-Schwenningen is the only one in Baden-Württemberg that is ready for action around the clock. As ‘Christoph 11’ it will be deployed from the German Red Cross station in the districts of Villingen, Tuttlingen, Ortenau (Offenburg), Waldshut, Freiburg, Freudenstadt, Zollern-Alb (Balingen), Rottweil, Sigmaringen, Konstanz, Reutlingen and Loerrach. The crew there performs over 1,700 missions per year. The Villingen-Schwenningen station is operated by the DRK Rescue Service Schwarzwald-Baar. As its partner, DRF Luftrettung has been responsible for flight operations at the station since 1996.
In addition to being used as a fast emergency doctor and for transporting emergency patients to clinics, the helicopter, which is equipped like a flying intensive care unit, is also used for fast and gentle transport of intensive care patients between clinics.