IT’S been a long time coming but the region’s new Westpac Rescue Helicopter touched down in Tamworth for the first time on Monday.
The new state-of-the-art chopper will be able to respond to emergencies faster and can carry more people.
The $18 million Augusta Westland from Italy still needs to be fitted out with $1.5 million worth of medical equipment but will start flying across the New England North West skies from March.
The new chopper, with its chairman and maintenance crew on board, flew into Tamworth on Monday afternoon after its maiden flight from Melbourne where it had been pieced together.
“It’s a very special day for us and for Tamworth for the helicopter to come into town for the first time,” Westpac Rescue Helicopter Chairman Cliff Marsh said on arrival.
”This is state-of-the-art, we were doing about 170 knots coming up here, going over the mountains and it was as smooth as silk and that’s pretty quick for a helicopter to be travelling.
“It’s bigger, it’s faster, it’s redder, you name it. There is more room, much more room for customers and the people that are looking after it, it is state-of-the-art.”
It comes just a year after the Service celebrated it’s 40th year of helping people in emergencies.
Boasting a greater maximum speed, more fuel and safety features, the new chopper can hover for longer and has a greater capacity to complete a mission should it suffer an engine failure.
“Lots more power, lost more safety features, it can fly faster because it’s got lots more fuel and can carry more people,” Westpac Rescue Helicopter chief engineer Matthew Wallace said.
It’s one of four new helicopters the service has taken delivery of as part of a new 10-year deal.
“The maximum speed is about 165 knots, so the existing aircraft both are around 135-140 knots,” Mr Wallace said.
“It should allow us to get to jobs quicker.”
For the crews, it’s a case of getting to know the new chopper.
Maintenance staff have completed their new training in Italy while the pilots are getting a feel for the new aircraft on home soil.
“This was a training flight,” Mr Wallace said.
“So it was an actual training scenario where we went into Cessnock Airport and did an approach, a simulated approach like when we have one engine.”
The new helicopter will be based out of Tamworth from March, next year.