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Founded in 1985, Life Link III provides critical care and safe, effective air medical transport services to patients across Minnesota and Wisconsin. It is widely regarded as a pioneer in both clinical excellence and critical care, and is one of the first non-profits in the United States to transport patients by helicopter.
Today, it operates 10 helicopter bases with 40 pilots, providing flight services around the clock, 365 days a year. In its rich 37-year history, Life Link III has experienced significant growth, continually striving to provide expanded services and help more patients. Leonardo has contributed to its incredible story of service by producing aircraft uniquely suited to its needs.
In 2013, Life Link III began its partnership with Leonardo when it acquired six AW119Kx helicopters. The AW119Kx’s outstanding controllability and maneuverability, even in extreme weather conditions, make it ideally suited for emergency medical services (EMS). This is especially the case for those operating in the extreme weather conditions of Minnesota and Wisconsin where temperatures climb high in the summer months and plummet far below zero in the winter.
The AW119Kx also offers a modern avionics suite and a spacious interior, which made it ideally suited for Life Link III since, at that point, it was looking to offer mechanical cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) inflight, while also maintaining 360-degree access to critical care patients. The AW119Kx could provide both.
The speed of the AW119Kx also gave it the ability to transport patients to trauma centers as quickly as possible, allowing not only for more life-saving missions, but also helping to reduce overall operating costs. And by adding these helicopters to its fleet, Life Link III began the process of standardizing all aircraft interiors and ensuring a level of consistency.
“It is a treat to fly in the heat of summer or the cold of winter,” said Greg Thingvold, vice president of aviation operations for Life Link III, about the AW119Kx. “This aircraft is an incredibly impressive and safe aircraft. I love its speed. It is a performer.”
But the Leonardo/Life Link III story doesn’t stop with the AW119Kx.
In 2020, Life Link III received its own U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 135 certification, giving it the operational flexibility not only to provide medical oversight in cabin, but also operational oversight, which includes training. This new flexibility allowed for two AW109 Trekkers to integrate into its fleet, which will be used primarily for instrument flight rules (IFR) training and will also provide backup for EMS capabilities.
Life Link III’s burgeoning organizational growth has posed complex and ever-changing challenges along the way, such as the opportunity to provide specialty medical services and capabilities that required a larger aircraft.
Once again, Leonardo had the ideal solution — the AW169. Its larger cabin space provides the space necessary for specialty care transport like neonatal and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). The AW169 has the largest cabin in its class, and its flexible design can accommodate two stretchers, either longitudinally or transversely, along with a full suite of advanced life support equipment.
Wide sliding doors allow easy access, while the spacious cabin ensures full access to the patient. A large baggage compartment allows for the storage of additional stretchers and equipment. The AW169 was an ideal addition for Life Link III, as it is designed specifically around patient needs, making it an ideal platform for life-saving primary and secondary missions.
Life Link III’s fleet has grown from six Leonardo aircraft in 2013 to 15 in 2022, which includes 12 AW119Kx — two with an IFR variant — two AW109 and one AW169. Leonardo is proud to have been able to work in tandem to find the solutions and aircraft to fill all its needs.
What’s most important and most significant is that over the past nine years, Leonardo worked side-by-side with Life Link III to provide the aircraft that can handle its cold climate issues, large service area, and expanding services. The results are a true indicator of teamwork, and Leonardo is renowned for this kind of commitment to customer service.