Ambulances & Vehicle Ops

Maryland State Police Aviation Command Continues Perfecting HEMS Fleet

Issue 2 and Volume 40.

One time or another, most of us in fire and EMS agencies have heard about the Maryland State Police Aviation Command (MSPAC). They operate one of the premier helicopter EMS (HEMS) operations in the country.

The Maryland State Police (MSP) is a proud partner in Maryland’s world-renowned EMS system that includes first responders and dedicated nurses and doctors throughout the state. This system is coordinated by the Maryland Institute for EMS system.

MSPAC Takes Off

The MSPAC was established in 1961 to provide airborne law enforcement and aerial search and rescue support for the MSP and allied law enforcement agencies. Their missions have included routine traffic patrol, monitoring special events, surveillance of criminal activity, tracking escapees and suspects, and searches for missing children.

On March 19, 1970, the MSP completed its first HEMS mission, becoming the first civilian agency to transport a critically-injured trauma patient by helicopter in the U.S.

The driving force behind this expansion into HEMS was R Adams Cowley, MD. Cowley, founder of the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Md., believed HEMS transportation of critically-injured patients would save lives. Today, the MSP and MSPAC maintain a worldwide reputation as the leaders in trauma care.

MSPAC is the only flight program that performs five separate mission profiles using the same aircraft and crew: HEMS; aerial law enforcement; search and rescue; homeland security; and disaster assessment. What began with one helicopter to cover the entire state now includes seven helicopter bases, maintenance operations, support operations and administration services.

The AW139 helicopter flying over Baltimore, Md., returning from R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center. Photo courtesy AgustaWestland.


Fleet Updates

Since 1970, the helicopter bases have completed over 180,000 missions and have transported over 140,000 patients. Last year alone, they flew 7,500 missions—2,300 of those were for HEMS transport, which included the use of two fixed-wing aircraft.

For the past 20 years, MSP has flown the Eurocopter Dauphin SA 365 helicopter, similar to those flown by the U.S. Coast Guard. These helicopters served the MSP well, but were in need of replacement. In 2008, an older model helicopter crashed, killing four on board and increasing the need for larger, updated helicopters. Available safety improvements and creeping maintenance issues warranted updates as well.

The process to design a new helicopter began in 2009, according to Lt. Walter Kerr, medical operations commander of the MSP. They gathered pilots, mechanics, ED doctors, and fire and rescue personnel to give input for the new specs.

In 2009, a request for proposals was sent to all helicopter manufacturers. After only one bid was received, a helicopter built by AgustaWestland in Philadelphia, was chosen. Ten helicopters were ordered and delivered over 18 months at a cost of $128 million.

The medical interior provides a great deal more space than previous helicopters with a swivel stretcher, suction, oxygen ports and a mounted defibrillator. Photo courtesy AgustaWestland.


A Safer Helicopter

The helicopter, known as the AW139, has distinct differences over the Dauphin. It’s larger, can transport two patients and will operate under FAA Part 135 standards in 2015, which means the helicopter is operated with two pilots to increase safety of operation. The aircraft is staffed by a total of four team members: a pilot-in-command (PIC) , a second-in-command (SIC) pilot, a paramedic crew chief and a rescue technician.

Other safety features include doors that allow patients to be loaded into the aircraft with a special mechanism, as well as having two medics able to work side by side. There’s also a turntable that pivots, enabling better patient handling. The capacity for medical equipment is greater, and a custom Aerolite medical interior—consisting of a modular medical floor with overboard drains, two multifunction displays, a warmer for IV fluids and suction units—was installed.

The floor tracking can accommodate a neonatal isolette, which allows for quick removal or installation of a seat for either special tactical cargo storage or a second patient.

The helicopter also has a larger windshield for better visibility, faster and more powerful hoists, a cable cutter, satellite tracking, and downlink video capabilities as well as interoperable communications with ground units.

The cockpit is an all-glass cockpit, which means no gauges and the ability to read information when wearing night vision goggles. An operator can call up a destination on the mapping program and send coordinates directly to the aircraft’s flight management system.

From a multisystem tactical work station, an operator can control the forward-looking infrared camera, tailfin camera, radio suite and 360-degree Traakar searchlight. Terrain awareness software also allows for low-flying capabilities and twin engines enable the aircraft to operate and conduct a safe landing should one engine fail.

The AW139’s all-glass controls feature dual-pilot interoperability. Photo courtesy Maryland State Police.


Training Aviators

Extensive training has taken place at each base around the state and each helicopter is currently in operation. In order to achieve FAA Part 135 standards, the MSP made plans to hire 20 more pilots and develop SIC training and standards. So far, they have hired 12 pilots and plan to hire eight more this year.

Initial training must be manufacturer specific, which means two weeks of ground school, two weeks of simulator training and 8–10 weeks of mission-specific training at each MSP base. Total transition training includes 22 hours in a flight-simulator, a three-hour check ride, and 30 hours of additional training in aircraft practicing various missions such as hoisting, law enforcement and HEMS.

Phase one of this transition is complete. The MSP’s current pilot staff attended AgustaWestland/RotorSim training, held at their facility last year, and will undergo enhanced mission training in 2015 to learn how to utilize the helicopter’s more advanced capabilities.

“We want to hire all our new pilots as SICs and then have a progression list for them to become PICs (pilots-in-command),” Kerr said. “We’re also trying to have more checks and balances in place with the addition of these new helicopters. Pilots are hired with either military or commercial experience. PICs will need 2,000 hours and SICs [will need] 1,500 hours. We’ll mentor the less experienced pilots and medical providers, then graduate them up to senior positions when we feel they’re trained adequately. Included in the training is the familiarization of flight paramedics with the new medical interiors and additional equipment.”

Each of the seven MSP bases are also in the process of instructing ground EMS and fire department personnel. Today, all bases are capable of performing any of the MSPAC’s various mission profiles.


The MSPAC has been proactive in the design of these new helicopters. The operations, training and safety for pilots and flight paramedics were paramount with the acquisition of the AW139 helicopters. These aircraft will allow the MSPAC to provide top-of-the-line patient care for all residents of Maryland.

See a mock-up of the MSP helicopter at the EMS Today Conference & Expo, Feb. 25–28 in Baltimore, Md.

Sidebar – MSP Aviation Bases

  1. Baltimore, Md.: Martin State Airport (Baltimore County)
  2. Camp Springs, Md.: Joint Base Andrews (Prince George’s County)
  3. Frederick, Md.: Frederick City Airport (Frederick County)
  4. Salisbury, Md.: Salisbury-Ocean City Airport (Wicomico County)
  5. Cumberland, Md.: Cumberland Regional Airport (Allegany County)
  6. Easton, Md.: Easton Airport (Talbot County)
  7. South Maryland: St. Mary’s Airport (St Mary’s County)

Sidebar – AgustaWestland AW139 Specs

>> Twin Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6C-67C turbines
>> State-of-the-art, five-bladed main rotor
>> Honeywell Primus Epic fully integrated cockpit avionics system
>> UTC model 4413-2-3 hoist system
>> Four-axis digital AFCS and flat panel color displays in the cockpit
>> MX-15 FLIR camera
>> Tailfin camera
>> Traakar searchlight