We caught up with pilot Dave to find out about his journey to becoming an air ambulance pilot, and what it’s like working alongside our doctors and paramedics.
How long have you worked with Thames Valley Air Ambulance?
I joined Bond Air Services in 2013 (after 6 years flying for the Police) and spent the first year as a touring pilot, covering at various Air Ambulance bases around the UK. I then started with Thames Valley Air Ambulance full-time in 2014, flying G-HBOB and then our current helicopter, G-TVAL, the following autumn.
How long have you been a pilot?
Almost 28 years; I joined the Royal Air Force in 1991 and started pilot training on completion of my Officer training.
Why did you want to become a pilot?
It was my childhood dream having watched all the war movies as a kid (yes, really!). I naturally thought it would be for someone else, but during my final year at Bath University I applied to the RAF, did the 3 day selection process at Biggin Hill, and was delighted to be successful.
What training and qualifications did you complete in order to become a pilot?
I started RAF flying training on the Chipmunk, then progressed to the Tucano. I had the option of which type of aircraft to fly next and I chose the helicopter route; this took me to RAF Shawbury in Shropshire to fly the Gazelle and Wessex where I graduated with my RAF Wings. As well as the flying aspect itself, there were many days spent in ground school; the theory is an essential part of being a pilot!
Where has your career taken you so far?
As a Support Helicopter pilot, I flew operational tours in Northern Ireland, Africa, Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as training in most corners of the world! I was also an instructor, teaching advance tactics to crews prior to deploying on operations. I left the RAF after 16 years and flew the air support role for the Police, covering a similar area to where we cover at Thames Valley Air Ambulance.
What’s it like being an air ambulance pilot?
It is without doubt a privileged position – it’s amazing to have a job that makes a difference to so many people and their families. I see my role as being a ‘taxi driver’ of an elite team of clinicians, delivering expertise both quickly and safely to a challenging situation is so important.
What are you looking for when you do your morning checks?
We check the fuel samples, oil levels and general parts of the helicopter, of which there are lots! A ground run is then carried out to do a final check on the aircraft systems, so we are ready to respond in quick time.
What happens during a morning breifing?
We follow a standard briefing format that covers (amongst other things) the weather, aircraft state, what to do in the event of an emergency, crew currencies, and information on landing sites. The paramedics and doctors then brief clinical aspects for the day ahead. I also run a daily competition, known as ‘sunset lottery’, to ‘guess’ the official sunset time at Benson (important to know when transitioning from day to night missions); the one who is furthest away from the correct time is responsible for buying coffee and cake at some point during the day!
How do the paramedics assist you with navigation and landing?
The technical crew members are trained (and annually checked) in assisting the pilot with getting to the incident and then assessing a safe landing site. This is true for both day and night missions. Flight safety is key and I encourage all crew members, including those in the rear, to look out as much as possible on route and during the landing phase.
What makes you proud to work with Thames Valley Air Ambulance?
Most people you speak to seem to know someone or maybe a friend of a friend who has needed an air ambulance. Hearing the difference it has made to so many makes me immensely proud to be part of the team. It needs all of us at Thames Valley Air Ambulance, including those in fundraising, support staff, engineers, etc… to keep the aircraft and cars out there!
What else do we need to know about Pilot Dave?
I am very particular about how I have my tea… it has to be Earl Grey, strong, with a dash of milk in a china cup, accompanied with a shortbread biscuit! Also, I am a very keen golfer, so if you are a Club Captain and looking for a Charity to support, then I am very happy to join you one sunny day and give a talk or Q&A session!