SOUTH BEND -- Time isn't the only thing at premium when flying a critically ill patient from an accident.
Space is, too.
And among the main improvements of the new MedFlight helicopter Memorial Hospital showed off Tuesday at South Bend Regional Airport is additional space.
The new Eurocopter EC145 features additional space for medical personnel to treat a critically ill patient.
"It is kind of like a critical care ICU unit in the air," said Rodney Logan, MedFlight program manager. "The advantages we have in this airframe over our previous one is there's about a 5-cubic-foot difference.
"In context, that is like a Ford Taurus vs. a Ford Expedition. It is truly much more roomy on the inside."
That extra space allows medical personnel access to the patient from head to toe; previously, that access was restricted to head-to-waist because of the size of the cabin, Logan said.
The distance from the cot to the ceiling has also increased -- from its previous 18 inches to what looked to be more than 24 inches.
According to the release from Memorial MedFlight, the larger cabin accommodates a variety of critical care transport medical equipment. In addition, the Eurocopter can travel greater distances and it can carry more weight.
The aircraft size and its lift capabilities also will allow future incorporation of a transport incubator for neonatal patients.
However, it almost always will still have only one critical care patient on board at a time, Logan said. Some companies tout the ability to take two on helicopters, but they are usually just taking one critical and one not so critical, he said.
"We like to make sure we are taking patients that definitely need to be going by air medical transport," he said.
The helicopter costs $7.4 million, is capable of traveling 300 miles and travels at speeds of about 140 mph.
Logan said the normal service area for such helicopters, including MedFlight, is within a 50-mile radius of South Bend.
Though MedFlight is owned and operated by Memorial Hospital, which is now part of Beacon Health System along with Elkhart General Hospital, it also services other area hospitals.
"We are available for anyone within range who calls and needs our services," Maggie Scroope, manager of media and community relations, said.
The new helicopter also has real-time weather radar, which helps the flight crew detect storm cells, lightning and high winds. It also is Instrument Flight Rule-capable, which will enable it to operate in a wider range of weather conditions.
It is available for use 365 days a year.
"That's really what we are about is being safe," Logan said.
The new Eurocopter EC145 replaces a helicopter that was in operation since 2006 and conducted more than 1,600 transports.