Independent support site
In The Beginning
Air ambulance services in England and Wales receive no funding from the NHS or from the National Lottery, but rely entirely on sponsorship, donations and fundraising activities. A trust was launched in June 1999 to provide an air ambulance service for the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire (see map).
With sponsorship from the AA for a period of three years an Agusta 109E Power, G-TVAA, was leased from Sloane Helicopters and was based at White Waltham airfield near Maidenhead.
Following the acquisition of the AA by Centrica, the grant to the Air Ambulance was cut off and a cheaper solution was needed. The trust leased an MBB Bölkow BO 105S DBS-4, G-TVAM, from Bond Air Services. It is believed that the first owner of this aircraft was Jacqui Onassis.
The helicopter was based at White Waltham until January 2007 when it moved to RAF Benson in Oxfordshire. The new base had the advantage of a more central location, cheaper fuel and better hangarage and maintenance facilities (The Police Chiltern Air Support Unit is also based at Benson). The disadvantage was that because of MoD security restrictions it was not possible to take volunteers and supporters onto the base, so public relations events are held at other locations such as hotels and golf courses.
The Next Upgrade
G-TVAM was built in 1979 and lacked the equipment that would be required for it to meet new EU regulations which come into force in 2009 - in particular an autopilot - and it became obvious that a replacement would be needed. It also suffered from only being able to transport one patient and could not take a parent or guardian to accompany an injured or sick child. Therefore a larger machine was required.
The replacement helicopter arrived in July 2008. It is a Eurocopter EC135 T2+, registration G-HBOB (for Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire) painted in a striking red and yellow livery. Like the Bo 105 it is a twin engined machine. The EC135 can transport two patients or a patient and a family member or friend and facilitates both side- and rear loading of stretchers. The patient will normally be stabilised before the flight, but the paramedics have the ability to provide treatment in the air if necessary.
It has for some time been an aspiration for the Air Ambulance to extend its hours of operation into the hours of darkness. This required the aircraft to be equipped with extra lights, a thermal imaging camera and special night flying goggles for the crew. It turned ut to be more cost-effective simply to replace the helicopter with a similar model that was fully equipped for night flying. At the same time the “BOB” branding was discarded and the charity changed its name to The Thames Valley Air Ambulance, thereby dropping the “Chiltern” which had been confused with the Children’s Air Ambulance which was operated by a different charity.
The new aircraft is an Airbus Helicopters EC 135 T3 which is the latest HEMS specification. It carried registration G-TVAL and was officially unveiled in October 2015 although it had been shown to volunteers in September (see Gallery 11).
To-date, the various helicopters used by the Trust have notched up well over 11,000 missions some of which will have turned out to be unnecessary, but it is better to be safe than sorry. We hope that visitors to this site will support their local air ambulance services in one of the many ways available. Please see the Links page for the web sites of air ambulance services and appeals in England and Wales.
Last updated 14th October, 2015