Helicopter Pilot
Devon Air Ambulance

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Hi, my name is Tilda.

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I’m a HEMS pilot. Helicopter, emergency

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medical services pilot, and I fly for Devon Air Ambulance.

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My job involves flying a helicopter

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in order to get the critical care team, which consists of either

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two paramedics and a critical care doctor or just two paramedics to an incident.

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We are literally bringing A&E to the scene.

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So it’s a 999 call out

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where they say they need a doctor or critical care paramedic.

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It’s a lot more service than the land ambulance can provide,

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and we carry a lot more specialist equipment

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that you wouldn’t be able to afford to put on every land ambulance but you could afford to put

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perhaps on two helicopters.

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The best bit is when it’s a happy ending and that you do save a life

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and you’ve really made a difference.

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Obviously, when it’s not a successful outcome,

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it’s very difficult.

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Then you really feel for the people that are left behind.

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So I find, yeah, that can be very, quite emotional.

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But so I’ve learned to become detached from it.

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So you have to be quite

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strong about it and just switch off.

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It all started when I was about 13 and we had a careers form that came around school and said,

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What do you want to be when you leave school?

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And so I said either a stunt woman, a secret agent,

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an astronaut or pilot, and the pilot was the easier option.

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So I did actually write to the Air Force

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when I was about that age because I knew they didn’t

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let women fly in the military – I said ‘why don’t you let me fly?’

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And they said, Well, you never know.

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Perhaps by the time you’re old enough, things might have changed.

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And they did.

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So I actually started flying when I was at university.

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I joined the University Air Squadron

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which is run by the Air Force and they teach you how to fly.

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And then I joined from there.

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I’d say that three strong points that you need to become a HEMS

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pilot would be to be flexible, to be able to put up with

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rapid planning and depending on the weather, depending

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on the type of the incident where you need to go, who you’re carrying.

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Be fairly practical and be willing to get your hands dirty,

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often landing in really muddy fields,

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having to help move the patient to and out of the aircraft,

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and also be able to stay emotionally detached.

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Because obviously you do get to meet

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the patient’s family or relatives quite often.


“The best bit is when it’s a happy ending and that you do save a life and you’ve really made a difference.” When she was 13, Tilda wanted to be a stunt woman, a secret agent, an astronaut or a pilot. She went on to join her university air squadron where she learned how to fly. She then joined the RAF but now works as a helicopter pilot for the ambulance service.

More information about Aircraft pilots and flight engineers

average salary

The UK average salary is £29,813

average weekly hours

There are 37.5 hours in the average working week

90%  male 
10%  female 

The UK workforce is 47% female and 53% male

Future employment

Future employment?

? Aircraft flight deck officers check, regulate, adjust and test engines and other equipment prior to take-off, navigate and pilot aircraft and give flying lessons.
Entrants with GCSEs/S grades and A levels/H grades, an Advanced GNVQ/GSVQ Level III or a BTEC/ SQA award can apply for an airline sponsorship. Private residential training is available to candidates with GCSEs/S grades or appropriate BTEC/SQA or GNVQ/GSVQ awards or to holders of Private Pilots Licences who have 700 hours flying experience. Normal colour vision is required and candidates undergo a medical examination. Training lasts up to 15 months and consists of courses of study and flying instruction. Airlines may have additional age and height requirements.
  • Studies flight plan, discusses it with flight deck crew and makes any necessary adjustments;
  • Directs or undertakes routine checks on engines, instruments, control panels, cargo distribution and fuel supplies;
  • Directs or undertakes the operation of controls to fly aeroplanes and helicopters, complying with air traffic control and aircraft operating procedures;
  • Monitors fuel consumption, air pressure, engine performance and other indicators during flight and advises pilot of any factors that affect the navigation or performance of the aircraft;
  • Maintains radio contact and discusses weather conditions with air traffic controllers;
  • Performs specified tests to determine aircraft’s stability, response to controls and overall performance;
  • Accompanies pupil on training flights and demonstrates flying techniques.
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