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EMS Company Raising $1M for State-of-the-Art Helicopter

CHICO, Calif. -- Enloe Medical Center has begun working to raise $1 million to buy a new air-ambulance helicopter.

The new helicopter has already been ordered so it will be ready when needed by the end of next year, said Marty Marshall, Enloe's director of emergency medical systems in an interview Thursday.

The new helicopter will cost $3 million, and it will take another $500,000 to equip the aircraft for use as an air ambulance, he said.

One thing that should please people who live near the hospital is that the new helicopter will be quieter than the one now in use. In fact, it will be as quiet as a helicopter can be, he said.

The new aircraft is an EC 130 B4 Eco-Star. It is made by American Eurocopter, a branch of the Eurocopter Group, a large company based in France.

Old age of the current FlightCare helicopter is the motivation for replacement. It will be 12 years old at the end of 2013.

That doesn't mean it's washed up, Marshall said. It still could have a long life ahead of it.

However, the maintenance schedule of the company that made Enloe's helicopter require that it essentially be disassembled, inspected and rebuilt after 12 years, he said.

Rather than pay for that huge maintenance job and have the aircraft out of service for three or four months, Enloe's leaders decided to buy the Eco-Star, which will have many beneficial features besides quietness, he said.

It will have better air conditioning, more room, be more powerful, and more fuel-efficient than the current helicopter.

An Enloe press release said the Enloe Foundation will provide $1 million for the purchase. The current helicopter will be sold and should net $1.5 million, according to Marshall. Enloe plans to raise another $1 million from people in the area that FlightCare serves.

The money-raising campaign has been dubbed "Take Flight." A committee of 10 people has been formed to lead the campaign, with volunteers Todd Kimmelshue and Scott Chalmers serving as the panel's co-chairs.

Marshall said letters asking for donations have been sent to the 8,000 people who belong to the FlightCare Membership Program. The memberships entitle them to discounts if they need to be taken to a hospital by FlightCare or nine other air ambulances in the West.

Enloe employees and staff will also be asked to contribute, along with the public generally.

Marshall said the main reason the new helicopter will be so quiet is that it has a different kind of rudder called a fenestron.

Most helicopters have a rudder on the tail consisting of a propeller with two or three blades. It helps provide stability. The fenestron, which serves the same purpose, has 20 blades and a housing around it.

Marshall said Enloe's new aircraft will be among the first of a new line of helicopters Eurostar is making.

He said companies that run helicopter tours in the Grand Canyon and Hawaii have also ordered the Eco-Star. They are required to have the most quiet helicopters out of concern for the environment, he said.



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