Flying high and walking tall: One day at the Moscow Aviation Centre

Flying high and walking tall: One day at the Moscow Aviation Centre
The aviation centre’s employees discuss night flights, the details of pre-flight preparations and the golden hour rule.

The Moscow Aviation Centre, affiliated with the City Department of Civil Defence, Emergencies and Fire Safety, operates ten helicopters. Five of them, including three air ambulances and two firefighting helicopters, fly daily missions. On Civil Aviation Worker’s Day, marked every 9 February, the centre’s staff discussed their daily activities and pre-flight preparations. Actually, they have to accomplish a lot on the ground before taking off on a patrol mission.

All systems go

Several air ambulances, that seem unusual to most people, sat inside a spacious hangar. The panels in the fuselage’s top section were open, making it possible to see the helicopter’s entrails. Moscow Aviation Centre officers have become used to this because each helicopter is checked before and after every mission. Technicians and engineers inspect internal and external systems, including the engines.

“Pilots and technicians keep us in the air. We rely on the technicians who see that our helicopters operate smoothly. The success of every mission depends on serious and detailed work,” said Deputy Commander of the Second Air Squadron Vyacheslav Kalenov.

Vyacheslav Kalenov, deputy commander of the Moscow Aviation Centre’s second air squadron.

The technicians check the radio-electronic equipment, avionics, power supply, communications and navigation systems separately.

“We see to it that all systems display the correct data, that there are no mistakes when the helicopter is switched on. We also inspect control columns, safety systems, antenna junctions, ports, navigation lights, landing-lights, etc. In addition, we contact the air traffic controllers in advance, so that pilots have no trouble communicating with ground control,” said engineer Yegor Zhigorev, who supervises the radio-electronic equipment maintenance.

Some of the instruments are so sensitive that they have to be reliably covered when the helicopters are on the ground. For example, sensors on both sides of the helicopter’s nose are very sensitive to the atmospheric pressure. They measure atmospheric pressure and airflow speed. Small objects or insects can penetrate these sensors unless they are sheathed.

“Actually, malfunctions are quite rare. These relatively new helicopters have computerised systems that automatically monitor the systems,” Mr Zhigorev added.

Heat up and refuel

The next step in the pre-flight inspection takes place outside the hangar. Helicopter engines have to be warmed up in the winter. It’s not enough to just start the engine and wait five minutes like you would in a car. Warm air is fed inside the helicopter via special hoses. The Moscow Aviation Centre has an engine preheater with two thick hoses to maintain temperatures of 90 degrees Celsius. The air cools off to 60-80 degrees when entering the engine and the compartment.

A mobile electric generator, which is a self-contained power source, is the second step in the pre-flight preparation. It is necessary to check helicopter cockpits’ systems before each mission and to switch them on. So the mobile generator powers the inside of the helicopter; this is done in the winter or the summer, before and after each mission.

Just like a car, helicopters are refuelled with hoses; each helicopter’s fuel tank holds over 600 kg (not litres) of fuel, the technicians say. There are no permanent refuelling stations, but petrol lorries are always available. When the centre’s helicopters redeploy to other regions, these petro lorries follow them.

Helicopters are refuelled after every mission. They use about 150 kg of fuel per hour. The fuel tanks are always filled to capacity because they can be summoned to any part of the city or the region any time.

Flight training

After the preparations, a Kamov Ka-32A helicopter’s crew showed off their professionalism, taking off, then hovering over a massive steel girder, attaching it, then lifting it and carrying elsewhere.

“This unique helicopter can carry just about anything and accomplish any task; for example, it can carry a water tank for putting out fires. Today, the crew will lift and carry a heavy girder; this is practical. In an emergency we have to quickly deliver equipment to an accident site, and this is often best done with helicopters. A helicopter can deliver a transformer booth, a pump station, etc.,” said Deputy Commander of a helicopter unit Alexei Didenko.

Alexei Didenko, deputy commander of the Moscow Aviation Centre’s helicopter unit.

The Ka-32A is on the ground for about 5 minutes, with the engine running and rotors spinning. Pilots prepare for the mission, communicate with ground control and confirm permission to take off. The helicopter is very noisy, so the centre’s staffers standing nearby have to wear soundproof headphones. When the helicopter takes off, it blows everything away; therefore one should not leave anything on the ground. The crew successfully completed the exercise, delivering the girder to a preset location in ten minutes.

Air ambulances ready 24/7

These helicopters have been on duty day and night since 2018. This was first tested during the 2018 FIFA World Cup; demand for night missions was so high that air ambulances are now available all the time.

“At night, we only land at six special sites near hospitals that are equipped with lights and other essentials. There are six other sites in the Troitsky and Novomoskovsky administrative areas. Our helicopters can also land on the well-lit Moscow Ring Road,” deputy director for air missions Oleg Katalshev explained.

Oleg Katalshev, deputy director for air missions at the Moscow Aviation Centre.

The helicopters have airlifted almost 80 patients at night, he noted. Day and night, helicopter crews transport patients with a stroke, cardiac arrest or traffic accident injuries. It takes an average of ten minutes to arrive at the scene of an accident.

This rapid response boosts a patient’s chances of survival in line with the golden hour concept. According to doctors, medical aid administered within the first 60 minutes of an accident increases the chances of survival. Patients are already treated in mid-air with the medical equipment aboard the helicopters. Each helicopter is almost a self-contained intensive care unit with an IV, medications, a computer monitor, defibrillators and a dielectric floor.

Summing up

In 2018, air ambulance crews at the Moscow Aviation Centre processed nearly 900 requests from the Emergency Medical Treatment Centre. They treated and evacuated over 520 road accident and other accident casualties. The crews of firefighting helicopters flew four missions and dropped over 500 tonnes of water on various fires. This year, the Moscow Aviation Centre crews have evacuated over 20 road accident and other casualties.