Now I know that every time we post something not directly related to Flight Simulation here, we get at least one complaint from someone that this is simFlight, not some general news site. However I want those people to stop and spare a thought here, because sometimes it’s worth reminding yourself that the aircraft we fly in the simulator and the things many of us do with them are replications of real aircraft and what real people do with them in the real world.
Earlier today the Pearson family had the pleasure of a little trip down the M5 motorway, to sit in a traffic jam for almost an hour due to an accident. This was, however, a pertinent reminder of why we were going – to visit the Midland Air Ambulance‘s Open Day at their Strensham Services Operational Base in Worcestershire, United Kingdom. The Midland Air Ambulances are, like almost all HEMS services in the UK, entirely funded by charitable donations, therefore it was a trip that I really wanted to make, in spite of my current problems and mobility issues that some readers may be aware of.
The MAA Operational Base at Strensham (situated at N52° 03′ 47″ W002° 09′ 24″ for those who want to be nosy on Google Earth) is far from the largest place in the world and is the Southernmost of MAA’s three locations, the other two being Tatenhill airfield in Staffordshire and RAF Cosford in Shropshire – which yes, is the same location as the RAF Museum, although not the same area of the station. You can just about see the Strensham base from the M5’s carriageways, but, if you’re driving, I’m sure they’d much prefer you didn’t look for them… They’d rather not be carting you and the people you hit off to the QE Hospital in Birmingham on a stretcher, a few minutes later, thank you very much.
Having the access gates open once in a while, however, gives members of the public who usually only see them as red dots in the sky a better look at the aircraft and an ability to talk to the numerous members of staff who were around about what they do, how they do it and suchlike.
Now OK, I said at the start that this would probably draw complaints but, seeing as this is simFlight, I’ll make this article a little relevant to our readership too. You see there is a, not entirely tenuous, link between the Midland Air Ambulance and Flight Simulator already. This comes from the fact that the Charity currently operates three Eurocopter EC135 aircraft (one at each site), and, for those of you who have the Nemeth Designs EC135 model for FSX, Chris “Eagleskinner” Brisland and Rick Piper have both provided us with liveries for aircraft operated by Midland Air Ambulance under their pre-reorganisation name of County Air Ambulance. Chris’s paint of RAF Cosford’s G-WMAS (pictured left) is available via Avsim and Rick’s G-BZRS is available via Classic British Flightsim, although G-BZRS is no longer flying with Midland Air Ambulance and is now, I’m told, serving the population of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.
Anyway, it wasn’t only the Midland Air Ambulance in attendance, as you might have guessed. Indeed all the major inland emergency services and a number of other displays were present, with staff and an appliance from Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (who had to dash off almost as soon as we got there, so no pics, sorry), West Midlands Ambulance Service, West Mercia Police, HM Armed Forces, the Police Vehicle Enthusiasts club, a local paintball centre and, not sure why, but generating a fair amount of interest, the nose section of a Hawker Hunter fighter! There were also rides available around the Worcestershire countryside in a club’s fleet of classic cars plus an old H&WFS pump appliance – with old-style two-tone horn and lights going – which seemed a big hit with children both above and below the age of majority…
One group which I did spend quite some time talking to was Severn Freewheelers, who I had never heard of before, but are a volunteer group who provide 24hr cover to carry medical documents, drugs, blood and organs around the Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, North Wiltshire and Worcestershire region on a small fleet of motorbikes. Under normal circumstances, the NHS (National Health Service, who run everything to do with public healthcare in the UK) put this stuff in a taxi at £100-odd a shot to move it around the country, but when it’s urgent and needs to be carried on blue lights, the only vehicle available is usually an Ambulance, which means taking essential equipment out of area. The gentlemen we spoke to from Severn Freewheelers provide this service for free to the healthcare providers, taking the cost out of the taxpayers’ accounts, but they do need to fund the equipment and training somehow so, the same as the Air Ambulance, were at the event to try and raise awareness and funding. The smallest member of the Pearson clan was roped in to this aim by sitting and looking cute on a motorcycle seat… But would she do it? Not a hope. OK. Seat not comfy enough for you Hayley? We’ll pop you in a pannier then. Where you’ll stand happily pulling faces at all the cameras that suddenly appear and not want to get out. Typical baby!
Anyway, as I said, the aim of publishing this here isn’t just to talk about the show, but to remind people that many of the aircraft we fly in flight simulator, whether they be medical assistance, military, law enforcement or offshore supply, for example, are based on machinery and people that do real jobs, working for and helping real people. This was proven by the fact that the single aircraft stationed at Strensham was called out not once, but twice, during our time there. The first time, it rendered assistance, but wasn’t needed for a patient transfer, so was able to come back. The second, unfortunately, it was away for longer than we were able to stay, with no further news available of what the tasking was, or how long it was likely to be. Therefore I can’t show you any images of the inside of the aircraft, as I was hoping to.
In spite of the aircraft being called away twice, there was plenty to keep the fairly high number of visitors occupied in its absence, although, as this is Britain after all, much of this was spent sitting and drinking tea!
Events like this are always worth going to if you get chance and they happen in your local community, whether your interest is that of a bystander, an aviation enthusiast or someone hoping to get involved and help raise some money for a charity that in the current economic climate almost certainly is in desperate need of it. As I said at the start of the article, the accident that held us up for over an hour on the M5 on the way down was a poignant and timely reminder of where we were going and why.
So, finally, instead of the interior shots mentioned earlier and with complete acceptance that this is one too many pictures of the same baby in one article, I’ll leave you with a bit of a “Guess the Aircraft” competition… This time, with Hayley actually doing what we wanted her to!
The clues are that the aircraft was until recently a reserve for Midland Air Ambulance, also operated by Bond Helicopters from whom the entire fleet are drawn, but it’s not an EC135. No prizes for correct guesses, I’m afraid, but guesses and answers welcome via the Comments box below the article. Have fun!