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RACQ unveils AW139 adapted for ‘extreme conditions’

written by Adam Thorn | December 16, 2020

LifeFlight Land Rover LifeFlight Special Mission Leonardo AW139
The LifeFlight ‘Land Rover LifeFlight Special Mission’ helicopter is an adapted Leonardo AW139 (RACQ LifeFlight)

RACQ LifeFlight has unveiled its new AW139, which it claims to have adapted to work in “extreme conditions”.

The Special Mission helicopter features “Forward-Looking Infra-Red” (FLIR) tech to spot heat sources from over water, can hover at 50 feet and “lock on” to moving survivors caught in a tide.

VH-XIA, msn 31590, will be based at the aeromedical helicopter operator’s Archerfield West facility in Brisbane.

LifeFlight also said the AW139, which is sponsored by Land Rover, is the “only aircraft of its type” available for immediate deployment by civil agencies, in Australia and beyond.

The organisation’s commercial director, Yvette Lutze, said, “The Land Rover LifeFlight Special Mission helicopter is dedicated to emergency response, such as search and rescue (SAR), law enforcement, fire-fighting support, surveillance, aeromedical and disaster response operations.


“This aircraft not only excels in search and rescue situations. It can be very quickly reconfigured to suit any emergency response requirement. The crew can use the on-board technology to pick up hot spots before bushfires flare out of control, or to find survivors amongst the devastation of natural disasters.

“It has the capability to help communities in the aftermath of fire, flood and other catastrophic events.”

Special Mission chief pilot, Paul Forcier, said it is one of only a few aircraft in Australia that can descend at night and maintain a hover at 50 feet.

“The auto-hover can lock the machine in position over a survivor, even if the survivor is moving with a tide, or being lifted up and down in rough seas,” said Forcier.

“The dual hoist is critical for performing winch rescues at long distances out to sea, when you need to ensure the remote possibility of equipment failure will not jeopardise the mission. There is always a back-up.

“The FLIR can ‘lock on’ to the heat signature and allow us to follow the person, even if they can’t be seen or they’re moving – maybe caught in swift water or running from danger on the ground, or even trying to outrun law enforcement.

“It’s a huge technological advantage, when rescuing multiple people who are moving, or in low visibility conditions – for example a group of people dispersed in the water from an overturned vessel.”

In August, Australian Aviation reported how RACQ LifeFlight Rescue completed a medical fit-out of three former RAAF Challenger 604 jets, which joined its fleet.

The Queensland aeromedical charity added that the aircraft, which can reach 1,050 kilometres an hour, were formerly tasked with transporting high-profile figures such as prime ministers and members of the royal family.

The business’ executive manager, Peter Elliott, said, “The Challenger 604 aircraft is the longest-range aeromedical jet available for immediate emergency deployment in Australia.

“The aircraft can go to the majority of airstrips and townships in Queensland and bring those people to the major centres such as Townsville, Cairns, Mackay and Brisbane.

“One of the new aircraft is replacing our Lear 45 jet, which has been based in Townsville for the past 10 years, while the other two are an addition to our fleet.”

After retirement from the RAAF, the jets were stored in the US, before LifeFlight collected them in February.

The organisation said the jet predominantly flew around Australia during their military service, but also had spells flying in the south Pacific, south-east Asia, Middle East and European regions.

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