Getting our crew to those who need us is a massive team effort. One that most people might not be aware of. From the charity staff to the wonderful volunteers and supporters, to our specialist crew, and to external organisations such as Babcock International Group that supplies and maintains our helicopter and pilots… every link in the chain is as vital as the other.
Today, we take a look at one of those vital links — our pilot, Captain Jim Green. We are lucky to have two pilots at Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC), and Jim is also the Regional Managing Pilot (South) for Babcock. We gave Jim a grilling on life, the universe, and what he likes best about flying for Great Western Air Ambulance Charity.
Read on for an insight into the mind of a highly-skilled Helicopter Emergency Medical Service pilot.
How long have you worked for GWAAC?
Eight years. I joined on 5th May 2014.
What did you do before?
I am a civilian-trained pilot. I conducted my initial training in New Zealand and then qualified as a commercial pilot in the UK. Prior to this job I was working in Aberdeen, flying people out to oil rigs in big heavies. I have also worked as an instructor, training military and police pilots from Algeria, and doing corporate work such as flying into Silverstone Grand Prix and Cheltenham races.
Did you have to undertake any additional training to be our GWAAC pilot?
Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) pilots will already have to be experienced commercial, Instrument Rated pilots before they can apply for the job. Once they join an air ambulance they will have to complete their type rating (for us, this is the EC135), which takes around a month, and line training.
Line training is typically 4-6 weeks of ‘on-the-job’ training, where a pilot will have an instructor in the back of the aircraft, observing their technique, decision-making and how they interact with the medical team. Once all this has been completed, pilots have to have proficiency checks in the aircraft and the simulator every six months to keep them sharp on all their emergencies and procedural flying skills, and they have to have a line check every year.
Why did you want to work for GWAAC?
I had always wanted to be an air ambulance pilot as I had always been interested in working with a specialist medical team and was excited by the challenge and variety of the flying, which is unlike any other aviation operation.
What do you like best about the job?
Working with an incredible team and getting to be part of a unit that makes a real difference to people’s lives.
Is there a mission you’re most proud of that you want to talk about?
It’s hard to pick out a particular one, but I have been proud to assist my team with some extremely challenging situations, including paediatric arrests, amputations and even offering distal control during a thoracotomy.
What makes your job easier?
Having good tools to do the job and people who know what they’re doing always helps! When I first started we had the Bolkow, which could be extremely challenging trying to fly. HEMS can be a highly complex operation and we are effectively always travelling under emergency conditions, so decent radios, navigation equipment and crew make this easier – and safer!
What is your favourite place to fly over in the region?
The Wye Valley, undoubtedly. It’s stunning. Probably my favourite place on Earth. But flying over the suspension bridge is always a delight.
What would your ideal air ambulance have onboard?
An Augmented Reality Head-Up Display, so that we could fly down valleys in fog with the same (or equivalent) visual references that we do on a clear day. Eventually, technology will come up with something that takes the weather/daylight factor out of being a HEMS pilot. That will be a real game-changer.
If you could change anything about the job what would it be and why?
Again, probably, as above. The most frustrating thing is knowing that someone could really benefit from our help but we are unable to get to them.
What is your favourite type of helicopter? If you could own one, what would it be?
The little ones tend to be the most fun. Something you could really throw around. Probably a Cabri G2
What inspires you? And what are your future ambitions?
I am inspired by creative solutions to complex problems, something, fortunately, that I have the opportunity to witness and (occasionally) offer, as an aviator working in a medical environment. These two disciplines have so much to learn from one another, and if I have any ambitions for the future it would be to aid the sharing of information and improvement of practice between these fields.
Do you have any words of advice for someone looking to becoming part of the GWAAC team?
As a pilot I would say be prepared to ‘muck in’. You often find yourself in situations that are unusual for a pilot, and you may be expected to assist the medical team with the care of patients, and be prepared to get your boots muddy, scale walls or fences and carry heavy equipment a long way!
What would you do if you weren’t a GWAAC pilot?
I studied Politics and English previously, so probably journalist or a writer.
Biggest achievement to date?
I was offered a Nobel Prize in humility… but I turned it down. (ha ha ha).
What is an interesting fact about yourself or hobby?
I enjoy studying. In recent years I completed an MA in International Relations and a PG Cert in Human Rights. I’m now on to my next one — an MSt at Cambridge, but then I’m done with degrees (at least for now!)
What do you do to relax and wind down?
Hanging out with my 9yr old daughter.
Your three favourite things? Your three most hated things?
Favourite: A good view, a good book and a good cuppa (or glass of wine!)
Hated: Unpunctuality, noisy eaters and noisy food. Basically, don’t go on a date with me, turn up late, order crisps and then eat them noisily.
Tea or coffee?
Both, but, if pushed, Tea. (I’m British, after all).
I am inspired by creative solutions to complex problems, something, fortunately, that I have the opportunity to witness and (occasionally) offer, as an aviator working in a medical environment.