On takeoff, or one day in the life of the Moscow Aviation Center staff

January 7
Safety and security

Every year, pilots and rescuers of the Moscow Aviation Center (MAC) help hundreds of people. Their work is hard. They have to fly through heavy rain and smog, often in complete darkness. At least three or four calls are usually received daily. This mos.ru article is about how the Moscow Aviation Center (MAC) staff spend their weekdays, why the “heli-lift” is needed and why helicopters do not like smoke.

Despite the rain

The MAC fleet is based at the Ostafyevo airfield. Helicopters wait in the wings in two places. One hangar, similar to a giant garage, is designed for ВК117С-2 ambulances. Another place, an open-air area, is intended for fire and rescue KA-32’s.

Ambulance helicopters fly to Moscow hospitals every day. They are always on alert, ready to deliver a victim from a remote area or from the scene of an accident. There is a stretcher-couches on board for a patient with severe injuries, who is taken inside through the rear door, and one seat for a sitting passenger. A special dielectric floor is installed in the helicopter. It ensures safe resuscitation during the flight, including use of defibrillator, without interfering the pilot’s controlling the helicopter.

"We are on duty around the clock. The first shift starts at seven in the morning, the second — at seven in the evening. At the beginning of the duty, pilots are engaged in pre-flight preparation: they inspect the aircraft, refuel it, fill in the on-board documentation, undergo a medical examination and airport security service inspection. In addition, they consult with our meteorologists, find out specific conditions of today’s flights," says Oleg Katalshev, Deputy Director for flights organization at the Moscow Aviation Center.

He is also on duty, sitting in a pilot's uniform in an office next to the hangar and, if necessary, will hit the skies.

"Flying at night is much more complicated. Normal weather conditions for daytime flights may not be suitable for night flights. And regardless of the weather, darkness makes it more difficult to recognize objects, see the landing site and obstacles, for example, cranes, electric wires. In such cases, we land helicopters on the MKAD, because of its good lighting. There are also landing sites in TiNAD and, of course, at hospitals," Oleg explains.

Oleg Katalshev. Photo by Maxim Denisov, Mos.ru

Air medical service pilots are ready to react to any weather conditions that may change every minute. For this purpose, special trainings are regularly held at the Moscow Aviation Center.

"It happens that you take off with the injured on board and the weather corresponds to the forecast, but on the way to the hospital you get into a snow squall. Most often it happens in winter and in the off-season. Visibility drops nearly to zero, but you realize that you have a person on board who needs urgent help. And one more important point: an ambulance helicopter is always operated by two pilots-in-command, this ensures maximum flight safety," Oleg Katalshev notes.

This morning, the pilots transported a seriously ill child to a specialized hospital. Then the helicopter returned to the hangar for refueling and is going to fly again. A frame on wheels, the so-called “heli-lift”, is placed under the aircraft body. The electric lift is turned on, a technician of the Moscow Aviation Center directs the movement, and the helicopter rolls out of the hangar to the runway in a matter of minutes. Then the helicopter rises slightly above the site, flies a little away and gains height. "It is prohibited to take off close to the hangar: wind can carry the helicopter onto the construction," Oleg Katalshev explains.

The helicopter keeps climbing. Suddenly, the helicopter flips to one side, hovers for a few seconds and soars upwards like an airplane. "The pilot demonstrated his skills. We train every day, work out the control of equipment in non-standard or emergency situations, for example, when the engine fails," Oleg comments.

Towards the fire

The northern hangar is an open-air parking space. Fire and rescue helicopters are waiting in the wings here. They are more resistant to bad weather than sanitary ones. Pilots are waiting for a call in rooms equipped with bedrooms and kitchens.

The summer of 2021 turned out to be hot and dry, fires occurred almost weekly.

"We are involved in the fire suppressions over large areas. For example, we fought a major fire at the Lukhovitsy landfill: there are a lot of peat bogs around. We were extinguishing it for two days. I remember my shift ended at 10 a.m., and at night I flew again. Each of our guys spent 40 hours in the air on this fire," says Andrei Mikhalevich, the pilot-in-command.

When a call comes in, the pilots have 10 minutes to get ready and another 10 minutes to start the helicopter. Along the way, you need to find out where the reservoir closest to the fire is located in order to fill the helibucket installed on the external suspension — a special water dropping equipment. A map of Moscow and its surroundings is on the wall in one of the rooms: pilots study it during duty hours to properly know the terrain.

Andrei Mikhalevich. Photo by Maxim Denisov, Mos.ru

"The key danger in fire extinguishing is getting into smoke. The helicopter does not like smoke. Rotor operates only at a certain air density. In addition, ash can get into the engine. The pilot’s task is to fly up to such a distance where water dropping is possible without getting into smoke," Andrey says.

Another risk is fire extinguishing in places where gas cylinders are stored. They can explode any moment — you need to act quickly.

They will hold out hand from the sky

Fire helicopters are involved not only in fire extinguishing. They carry rescuers from the special squad of the Moscow Aviation Center SPASO to pull drowning people out of reservoirs or look for those lost in the woods.

Among other things, training includes rescuing without landing on the pond surface.

Wearing wetsuits and fins, rescuers tie alpine belts around themselves. They have five sets of uniforms in their wardrobe. In addition to a wetsuit, they are fire protective garment, anti-tick protective garment for working in the forest, a special suit for aerial work and a general-purpose suit for universal task performance. Such a suit can be useful, for example, when it is required to cut a ring that does not come off a finger, open a jammed lock or catch a bat in the apartment, using a net.

"When rescuing a drowning person, one of us descends on a winch from a hovering helicopter into water — he will be the "drowning" one. Meanwhile, the rescuer at the opposite end of the winch descends too, ties the drowning to his belt and lifts him on board. One more member of our team starts going down into the pond to play the role of another drowning. We are maneuvering like that several times so that each of us hones the skill of pulling a person out of water," Sergey Lisitsyn, the first-class lifeguard, explains.

The KA-32 helicopter accommodates up to 13 people: if necessary, a group of injured can be taken out.

The pilot starts the rotor. "When it spins-up, it looks like a dance with sabers," say the MAC employees with a smile. Roar, wind — and the helicopter is taking off. The sky team took over the watch.

Source: mos.ru

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