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The Air Evac 206L skid gear partnership began in October 2010, and it was by far DART’s largest landing gear contract at the time. “That was a big opportunity for us,” Shepherd recalled. “It was definitely a game changer.” With a shared R&D cost plan and minimum purchase commitment from Air Evac, the first task was to define the new skid gear height. VIP transports tend to be low, while most utility rotorcraft sit high so they can land in unimproved areas. Air Evac wanted something in between.


Air Evac maintenance crews placed a 206L on jacks and lifted it up and down so various Air Evac experts could analyze different heights, then handed a recommendation to DART, Shepherd said. “Once we determined that mid-skids were the direction we wanted to go, DART enthusiastically took on the project and worked to create a solution customized for us,” said Shelly Schneider, Air Evac Lifeteam public relations manager.


DART’s team then created a prototype design, taking into account the need for 2-4 inches of deflection in the landing gear under load, and the need to retain height for undeveloped landing sites. Skid heights for the 206L range from 19 to 28 inches from the ground to the top of the crosstubes, and DART’s design went with the mid-range height of 23 inches. Air Evac maintenance and aircrews evaluated the prototype with weight on the gear and confirmed it was what they were looking for. That part of the process took about 3-4 months.


Mother Nature produced the only blip in the process with a snowstorm on the February 2011 prototype demonstration day in West Plains, Missouri, Shepherd recalled. Air Evac sent its employees home but those involved in the demo decided to stay. Then when DART officials couldn’t fly home out of Springfield, Missouri, Air Evac folks lent them an Air Evac car to drive to Memphis to catch another flight. “It was a miracle we got the demo done,” Shepherd said.


Then came the STC process with comparative deflection, drop and structural tests. DART submitted the required reports and the request to amend an existing STC to Transport Canada for its approval, which also covered the FAA through a bilateral


agreement. The STC update process took 3-4 months after the prototype had been accepted by Air Evac. So from start to finish, this project was successfully completed in just 7-8 months. DART then started delivering skids to Air Evac.


“DART is willing to customize orders for us,” Schneider said. “They even painted it in a matte blue, so we didn’t have to repaint it. That is a huge help for us.”


Air Evac maintenance crews then spent about six years retrofitting Air Evac’s 206L Series fleet of 124 rotorcraft with air conditioning and DART’s mid-skids, saving down time with simultaneous upgrades. The work was completed about a year ago.


“DART played a significant role in every aspect of the project – from creation through production,” Schneider said.


“It was a great team effort,” Shepherd added. “Everybody was focused.”


The air conditioning makes patients more comfortable and also makes it easier to keep certain medications at a more constant temperature, while the mid-sized skids already have significantly reduced crewmembers’ back strains and worker’s comp. claims, Air Evac officials said. In 2013, back strains/injuries accounted for 33 percent of all Air Evac injuries; by 2018, they added up to just 28 percent. “Air Evac Lifeteam has seen a reduction in back injuries and slips/trips/falls because the step is no longer in the way of loading/unloading patients, and because crews do not have to lift/lower the patient as high,” Schneider confirmed.


Perhaps the best news comes from the crewmembers themselves. “For me, the mid-height skids really reduce the challenges we have with loading people,” said Jon Fannin, Air Evac Lifeteam 118 base clinical lead in Morgan County, Kentucky. “With the full- height skids we had to lift the patient significantly above our waist and off of the stretcher in order to put them in the aircraft. With the change in height of our helicopter, loading became a much more efficient process, which helps us get our patients to the care they need quicker.”


60


Nov/Dec 2018


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