Meet Pilot Rich MacLaughlin - Great Western Air Ambulance Charity
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Meet Pilot Rich MacLaughlin

We are excited to welcome back Captain Richard MacLaughlin to Great Western Air Ambulance Charity (GWAAC)!

As one of our specialist HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Service) Pilots, Rich joins Captain Jim Green as GWAAC’s pilot-duo, responsible for getting our Critical Care Team to patients in need of lifesaving care.

We had a chat with Rich about his new role and why he wanted to join GWAAC.

When did you start working with GWAAC?

I started back on 5 July 2023. I worked as a touring pilot for GWAAC prior to this permanent position. But before that, I was one of GWAAC’s pilots for six years, so I’m not exactly a stranger.

Why did you want to work for GWAAC?

I have a soft spot for GWAAC and, coming back, it feels like coming home. Being based in Bath, I feel lucky to have such a wonderful charity local to me and one that I can fly for. I’m very aware that no one is immune to needing an air ambulance and it’s comforting to know that living in Bath, I have GWAAC.

What has been your career pathway to date? How did you get into HEMS?

I worked as a pilot in the Royal Navy for 16 years. I flew ‘Sea Kings’ and ‘Squirrels’. At the end of my commission, I made the move into HEMS by working for another air ambulance for a couple of years. In 2014, I began working for GWAAC as a HEMS pilot. It has been nice to do a more friendly version of flying, which has allowed me to give something back to the local community.

What do you like about flying for GWAAC?

GWAAC is a great place to work and fly for. I like flying around my local area, which I do every day thanks to my work.

At GWAAC I have the option to just be the pilot. The Critical Care Team brings the patient to the helicopter for transportation. The four-person setup here at GWAAC means that the team can focus on the patient, and I can assist them.

What do you do when you are waiting for the crew?

Once we have landed, I reduce the rotor speed by half so the crew can safely move away from the helicopter and remove their helmets. The crew gets their radios and kit on, leaving their helmets in a nest on the floor near the helicopter, which I go and collect.

As soon as the team has departed, I complete all the necessary paperwork and carry out an aircraft walkaround to ensure the aircraft is safe to fly.

I listen out on the radios for information about what they need of me and the helicopter next.

Often members of the public will come over and ask some questions. I like to answer their questions and show them how their donations and support help our day-to-day work.

Are there any missions you’re particularly proud of?

Every job is equally important. However, flying into and landing at the Royal Crescent in Bath was a cool moment.

I am proud of the jobs where I have had to work harder as a pilot due to varying conditions like the weather!

Can you think of any pros and cons of working at GWAAC?

Helimed 65 is a lovely helicopter and a really good aircraft in terms of what it can do; it means we can land where others cannot. The design and build of the helicopter mean we can land much easier in unusual places like on a steep slippery slope. In the region we cover there are some great cities with suitable landing sites, like Bath and Bristol.

The only con is the lack of air conditioning in the aircraft, but air conditioning is a rarity. On the other hand, we have good heating for the winter months!

How does it feel when you convey a patient?

I can compartmentalise; it's the same no matter whether we have a patient on board or not. This is aided by the controlled environment created by the Critical Care Team. The biggest impact on me is that I need to make sure the aircraft is loaded correctly.

What is your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement so far is becoming a military flying instructor.

What is your favourite place to fly over in the region?

It would have to be Bath on a sunny day!

What is your favourite type of helicopter? If you could own one, what would it be?

Airwolf, of course.

What would you do if you weren’t a GWAAC pilot?

I’d be a Formula One driver. Team McLaren all the way.

What do you do to relax and wind down?

Mainly sports stuff – mountain biking, walking, skiing. Car DIY, not to be confused with DIY.

What are your three favourite things?

Mountains and skiing, cars, and living in Bath.

What are your three least favourite things?

Traffic, traffic, and traffic.

Tea or Coffee?

Coffee. I’m one of those weird non tea drinkers.

What’s one word to describe yourself?

Tall. Pilot. Oh, that’s two.

A random fact about yourself?

I can juggle. Clubs and Balls. Three at a time solidly. Four, if I’m lucky.

If you want to continue learning about our crew, why not read new Assistant Medical Director, Dr Andrew Heavyside's bio?

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