Mercy Flight to unveil state-of-the-art helicopters today

WATCH: See the new choppers with crew

Mike Baggerman
November 15, 2018 - 3:00 am

Mercy Flight's new Bell 429 choppers. Four of the helicopters are in Mercy Flight's fleet, replacing the helicopters manufactured in the 1980's. November 14, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Mercy Flight will formally unveil three new Bell 429 helicopters on Thursday.

The helicopters, which were manufactured in 2017, will bring Mercy Flight’s total fleet of Bell 429 helicopters to four.

“It’s a great aircraft,” Dennis Crandall, Chief Pilot at Mercy Flight, told WBEN. “…They’re a brand new aircraft. They have a lot of power, a lot of speed, and a lot of capabilities of flying in clouds. It gives a little more versatility with all the challenging weather that we have here in Western New York.”

Mercy Flight entered into a purchase agreement for the new helicopters last November to replace their current fleet of BK-117 choppers. The purchase cost Mercy Flight $23 million.

Fellow pilot, Gregg Gray, said one of the differences with the new choppers are more room for not just the pilots but also medical personnel.

READ MORE: Mercy Flight to add three new helicopters in fleet

“Up front from the pilot’s perspective it’s brand new avionics,” Gray said. “It’s all flat-screen, the electronic instruments. We also have an integrated auto-pilot system in this one as well.”

Gregg Gray, a pilot for Mercy Flight, shows off the cockpit of the Bell 429. November 14, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

When out on a call, three people are inside the Mercy Flight helicopter: The pilot and two medical personnel. All of whom are under high pressure to save lives.

“These new helicopters are much more-roomier than our previous helicopters,” Flight Paramedic Daniel Hankey said. “You can move around, take care of the patient easier, and reach equipment better.”

Caitlyn Sharp, a flight nurse for Mercy Flight, said their training for the new choppers was more about familiarizing with the new surroundings.

“A lot of our bags and syringes were the same,” she said. “How we’re going to fit the patient in and maximize our space was different.”

Patients who needed transportation via Mercy Flight were loaded into the back of the

Mercy Flight is best-known for its quick response to various incidents throughout the region. Whether it’s a trauma related incident or transportation of medical supplies from one hospital to another, Mercy Flight is relied upon in lieu of an ambulance.

Their old fleet of helicopters are still used, though growing maintenance cost of the choppers that were manufactured in the 1980’s led Mercy Flight to considering newer options.

A flight from Mercy Flight’s headquarters by the Buffalo Niagara International Airport to Jamestown takes the crew about 25 minutes. Gray said that these helicopters reach a maximum speed of around 150 miles per hour, which is roughly 20 miles per hour faster than the BK-117’s. That time is precious in scenarios like a stroke or heart attack.

“They’ve got a quicker startup cycle so we can get out from wherever we’re starting from quicker,” Gray explained. “Once we get on the scene, it’s got a quicker shutdown cycle too, so our medical crew can get off and back on without as much delay as we had in our previous aircraft.”

Behind the cockpit is the treatment bay where patients are loaded. Patients used to be loaded through the back of the chopper. The new models were created to allow the loading of patients through an aluminum sled that can be rotated from the side.

“It’s lighter an easier to manipulate,” Daniel Hankey, a Mercy Flight paramedic, said. “It’s a different beast.”

Mercy Flight is on-call at all hours of the day, year-round. They can fly through any form of precipitation, though icing on the choppers could mean a delay in take-off.

Stay tuned to WBEN for additional coverage of the unveiling


From left to right: Dennis Crandall (Chief Pilot), Daniel Hankey (Flight Paramedic), Caitlyn Sharp (Flight Nurse), and Gregg Gray (Pilot) pose in front of Mercy Flight's new Bell 429 Helicopters. November 14, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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