A new air ambulance will soon be flying out of Prince George.
After recently securing a renewal of its contract with the provincial government, Northern Thunderbird Air has purchased a new Hawker Beechcraft King Air 350 turboprop that it plans to put into service by no later than Dec. 1.
With enough room for two pilots, two paramedics and two patients, it's the same model as the one currently in service but with several new enhancements, said NT Air general manager Bill Hesse, both in the cockpit and in the holding area.
Most notable for Hesse is a thermal camera mounted on the aircraft's nose that helps the crew see if there is an animal on the runway, a common problem in some of the more remote locations the plane will fly into.
Also helpful, said Hesse, will be a terrain area warning system, a traffic collision avoidance system, enhanced weather mapping with Doeppler radar and a lightning detector, and satellite tracking system.
"And that's just the pilot end," Hesse said. "In the ambulance end, it's all brand new state-of-the-art."
The plane's two beds are equipped with oxygen, vacuum and compressed air, as well as lighting and inverters to provide AC power for medical equipment.
"The paramedics will be able to control their temperature and their lights from the back, it doesn't have to be done through the cockpit," Hesse said. "It even has heated seats for the paramedics."
Perhaps just as important, the plane is capable of flying at 350 miles per hour and carries enough fuel for five hours which means it can fly into pretty much any paved airstrip in B.C., said Hesse.
"This gives great versatility with almost jet speed and it's a very practical machine," Hesse said.
NT Air's current air ambulance has flown nearly 10,000 hours over the six years it's been in operation and with the new contract signed, Hesse said it was time to purchased an updated version.
All in, the new plane cost NT Air $6.7 million and will be in the sky for about 1,500 hours a year.
"This Prince George airplane is actually the busiest in the (air ambulance) fleet," Hesse said. "We fly the most miles and the most hours."