Airplane joins AirCare service

airplane in hangar

A sleek, powerful new airplane puts an emergency room in the sky as UI Health Care’s first fixed-wing air ambulance.

The Emergency Department at University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics recently began using its new fixed-wing aircraft to transport patients who need specialized care for serious injuries or illnesses. 

The single-engine aircraft provides a 700-mile travel radius and more space for people and equipment compared to the hospital’s AirCare helicopters, which fly a 125-mile radius and have a tight fit for patient, medical team, and life-support equipment.

The plane also is equipped to transport pediatric intensive-care patients—including premature newborns—from hospitals around the region to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital. Unlike its helicopter hangar mates, the plane will travel from airport to airport, with ambulance vans transporting patients between the airport and hospital.

“The plane expands our reach and creates greater access to our hospital for more remote areas of Iowa and the region,” says Andrew Nugent, MD, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at UI Hospitals & Clinics.

Many of the initial flights involve pediatric intensive care patients, Nugent adds.

“We are planning to use the new aircraft to serve other patients within months. The plane is equipped with the same technology that is used in emergency departments, so our flight crews will be able to provide high quality care wherever they go in Iowa and beyond,” he adds.

AirCare, which marks its 40th year at UI Hospitals & Clinics this year, operates and maintains its aircraft in partnership with AirMethods. AirCare’s medical teams have been trained to fly in both the fixed wing airplane and the fleet’s helicopters.

Nugent says other pluses the plane brings to the fleet include being able to fly in some weather conditions unsuitable for a helicopter. Also, because there’s more space on the plane, some flights may be able to have a patient’s family member on board, which can be an emotional boost for patients and families, he adds.