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Pilot James Talks World Helicopter Day

With a month to go until we bring our air operations in house and our new helicopter G-TVLY takes to the skies, we sat down with pilot James Hamilton to talk about the significance of having our own air operator certificate (AOC) and the ins-and-outs of the role.

James has worked for us for almost three years previously as a contractor, and is joining us permanently this September. He is excited to work for us directly as we transition to having our AOC.

It is a really big deal for Air Ambulance Charities to get their own AOC. It means that all of those amazing people that have donated , and continue donating, their hard earned money to the Thames Valley Air Ambulance will have paid for, and have real sense of ownership of, their own red rescue helicopter! It also means the charity will be able to be more efficient and flexible when it comes to managing its air operations in the future. I’m ecstatic to be joining the team and the new cool uniform is bonus!

James began his career training to be a helicopter pilot in the RAF. It took three years to become qualified, and he’s now been flying for an impressive 21 years. Growing up on a British Army base in Germany inspired James to become a helicopter pilot.

 Watching the helicopters land in the fields and occasionally Dad would get in one and go off on exercise, it blew my mind

On an average working day the start is the busiest time for the whole crew, as there are lots of safety checks in place to prepare the aircraft and the kit.

“First thing in the morning, while I’m crawling all over the helicopter the doctor and the paramedic team are also checking each and every piece of medical kit. We then work together to lift the helicopter and manoeuvre it out of the hanger on a great big hydraulic clamp called a Heli lift. Once it is outside we check the fuel in our bowser then start the helicopter and run it on the ground in order to conduct all of our pre-flight checks slowly and safely while we don’t have to rush to an incident.”

Most days, it’s not a long wait for the first call out of the day. Some days the crew will be bouncing from one incident to another and only heading back to base for fuel or medical gear, other days they try to get some administration done between jobs. At the end of the shift the aircraft is “put to bed” by stripping all the kit off, giving it a good clean then opening all of the maintenance panels to help the crew the next day with their checks. 

An experience that has really stuck with me was when I was new to air ambulance work. We flew to a lovely lady in her 80’s who had had a tumble and had broken her leg really badly. The doctor and paramedic were calm and reassuring as they always are, but I remember being a little shocked at the sight. The lady was obviously in a great deal of pain but leant over to me and patted my hand saying ‘It’ll be alright love’. I was so impressed with her stoicism and selflessness it really touched me.

Another part of the job that James loves are the letters of thanks sent in by those that have been helped by the crew. They are pinned up on a notice board and the team sees them every day when they arrive- “You can’t really beat that in my opinion”.

Find out more about what bringing our air operations in-house means for Thames Valley Air Ambulance and take a look at our new helicopter.