HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Charleston, WV

Often times, it really is that simple – a group of passionate people with an innovative idea. In this case, a group of HealthNet Aeromedical Services Training Center educators were chatting while leaving work at the end of a typical day in July of 2013.  The conversation resulted in an epiphany of sorts.  What if…we could develop a simulator to ease the transition of our new crew members from classroom/human simulator training to active flight duty?  Charleston, WV based HealthNet Aeromedical Services already had an extensive training program in place, including a rigorous 10-week training academy designed to prepare new hires for their first real mission.  Intensive classroom and human clinical simulator training were followed by a period of “3rd person ride-alongs.” Their entire program could last up to six months in duration.  How can we be more effective?…  What if…?

The program’s group of educators brought their CEO, Clinton Burley, into the discussion and he promised to explore their idea for an airframe simulator. His first step was to contact Air Methods Corporation (their aviation partner). After a discussion outlining what the educators wished to accomplish, Air Methods offered up the shell of a BK117 aircraft that had been retired and was scheduled for destruction at a facility near Pittsburgh, PA. Expecting a true skeleton of an airframe, Burley and his team were pleasantly surprised when the main cabin of the BK117airframe arrived in Charleston with much of its Emergency Medical Service (EMS) interior intact.

Suddenly, HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ “What if…?” became less of a vision, and more of a possibility.

Burley approached nearby Carver Career and Technology Center and asked for their help to refurbish the exterior of the shell. Throughout their spring semester, Carver’s students were tasked with sanding down the aircraft, and Carver’s fall semester students were tasked with painting the aircraft and graphics. Once the BK was appropriately branded into the HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ family, the airframe was formally delivered back to its new home at the program’s Training Center in Charleston in October of 2014.

At this point, it was all hands on deck. The entire HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ family jumped into the simulator project with enthusiasm, recognizing the value it would add to their team. Ideas and suggestions began flowing into the project leads, and volunteers lined up offering the labor needed to see the project to completion.

Without a power source, typically generated by the engine, Air Methods stepped in, again, to help. A team of mechanics was dispatched to Charleston. Over the course of the next few weeks, the simulator was wired for electricity; oxygen and air lines were re-furbished and re-plumbed; and an air compressor was mounted on the cabin’s roof to simulate aircraft ventilation and oxygen systems. The simulator was outfitted, down to the last detail, to replicate the operating environment of active duty program aircraft – identical ventilators, IV pumps, CCT patient monitors, internal pacemaker, NVG equipment, and more. Radio communications were simulated and synced directly to the Simulator Operator, who could then play different roles depending on the training scenario: Medical Director, Pilot, ATC, and/or Operational Control Center.

“We are using the new simulator within the well-established template for medical training and education whereby realistic and, often high-fidelity work environments, are recreated and students evaluated by their response. This is performed in a controlled, low-risk, simulated setting of events that, should they be encountered in the real job arena, would be very high risk evolutions with very little room for error. Through this process our flight team members are better prepared to safely care for our patients.”
– David Matics, MA, EMT-P , HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ Simulation Specialist

Next, flat-panel video screens were mounted over the cabin compartment windows, on to both sides of the airframe, depicting actual in-flight sequences within their local flying area. GoPro camera video footage from actual patient flights was uploaded in computers linked to the video screens so that students could visually experience a mission departing from an actual HealthNet Aeromedical Services base location, arriving on scene, as well as arriving and departing from the helipads of regional medical facilities. Simulating the operating environment didn’t stop there. At the recommendation of the program’s Director of Accounting, the floor underneath the airframe was painted like a hospital helipad to train new hires how to work safely on and around a helipad environment.


Pilot “Bob” sits at the controls of HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ Clinical/Safety Simulator.

Last, but not least, video recording capability was added inside the aircraft cabin so that footage could be fed directly back into the classroom setting, effectively bringing academy training full-circle. Students simultaneously learn from one another from the simulator to the classroom, and help each other by actively reviewing training sessions and identifying and discussing individual/team strengths and weaknesses.

The suggestions continued to pour in. How about a smoke generating machine to simulate“smoke in the cabin” scenarios and add authenticity to aircraft egress training? Check! What about “pilot in distress” scenarios?  Meet “Bob,” a mannequin weighing 250 lbs., who occasionally rides in the pilot’s seat for just such a scenario. In order to pass their training requirements, each crew member must demonstrate the ability to rapidly access the cockpit, achieve aircraft shutdown, and appropriately extricate “Bob” from his constraints and drag him clear of the aircraft.

“The academy and flight simulator are providing new flight team members invaluable tools to excel in our trade. With safety and high quality patient care at the forefront of all operations, these resources are raising the bar through technology and experience.”
– Ray Kellogg, RN, Member, Academy Class Kilo, HealthNet Aeromedical Services, Inc.


A HealthNet Aeromedical Services flight team receives training inside the program’s new clinical/safety simulator.

The HealthNet Aeromedical Services’ team had a vision. More importantly, they were able to accomplish their plans without the significant financial requirements that are typically associated with acquiring and installing a simulator. A little creative problem-solving coupled with a whole lot of investment by every member of the team and Voila! Their simulator was officially unveiled in mid-January at a ceremony in Charleston. The program’s newest flight team members began using it immediately as part of their academy training.  In the future, HealthNet Aeromedical Services will be able to use the data collected by their training academy programs to see how their new simulation capacity has improved the speed and effectiveness of their new employee training and integration into the operating environment. Stay tuned for the results of the research or, better yet, put on your thinking cap and explore ways your program may be able to implement simulation technology on a budget. HealthNet Aeromedical Services has shown that it IS possible!

“The power of people is inherent in each and every program. It leads to great things for those whom we serve.”
– Clinton Burley, CEO, HealthNet Aeromedical Services

A story within a story…

Curious about the history of their new BK, Clinton Burley began to trace the origins of the airframe.  As it turns out, Aircraft 7107 was completed by Rocky Mountain Helicopters in Provo, UT and was initially assigned to UMASS Life Flight.  Several years later and after refurbishment, the aircraft was assigned to LifeStar in Hartford, CT.  The ship lived out its useful life in Connecticut.Dedication Plaque

After retirement the aircraft was taken to Air Methods facilities in Pittsburgh, PA.  It remained there until it was donated to HealthNet Aeromedical Services for use as the Clinical/Safety Simulator.  A sign placed beside the simulator pays homage to 7107’s active service and includes photos taken in Connecticut.