A few weeks ago, Bedford residents were surprised to see—and hear—helicopters operated by their Hanscom Field neighbor, Boston MedFlight, participating in a training exercise above their homes.
After a few noise complaints, Rick Kenin, the chief operating officer at Boston MedFlight, said management told the helicopters to leave the area.
“We dispersed the training to other airports in the area,” Kenin said. “So, instead of all the training going on here at Hanscom Field in the Bedford area … we distributed the training around to different airports.”
Boston MedFlight, a non-profit organization, labels itself “the region’s primary provider of critical care medical transport by air and ground.”
This training exercise was very different for MedFlight pilots, who are typically trained in a helicopter simulator, not an actual helicopter. According to Kenin, the only simulator for MedFlight helicopters is located in Finland.
“Because of Covid, we haven’t been able to send our pilots over to Finland to do their annual recurrent training,” Kenin said. To improvise, Boston MedFlight brought in a team of instructors from Airbus Helicopters, the company which manufactures all MedFlight units, to train the pilots.
Using a simulator to train helicopter operators is “rare,” but Kenin said MedFlight pilots have to be trained in this way due to the “nature of the flying” they do.
Boston MedFlight has five helicopters stationed throughout eastern Massachusetts and employs 18 pilots. Two pilots were being trained per day, and all of the pilots trained were existing MedFlight operators, not new pilots.
Kenin said that the “recurrent training” a few weeks ago is much different from the initial training for new pilots. Recurrent training is annual and serves as additional practice for current pilots, but initial training is held on the aircraft for new MedFlight operators.
“Although it’s called ‘initial training,’ none of the pilots that come to us are new pilots,” Kenin said. “They all have at least 10 years of flying experience before Boston MedFlight will hire them.”
The main purpose of recurrent training is to review emergency procedures that pilots thankfully don’t deal with often. “When we have an instructor with [the pilot] or when we can send them to a simulator, they’re able to practice things like hydraulic system failures or an engine failure,” Kenin said.
Since Boston MedFlight only flies twin-engine helicopters, Kenin said an engine failure can be simulated inside of the helicopter with an instructor.
“We have to simulate losing an engine so we can practice the emergency procedures so that we can fly [the helicopter] safely,” Kenin said. “This helicopter is designed with so many safety features, it flies just fine on one engine.”