Starting in 1973, the stationing of the 236th Medical Detachment led to a perception of the long time presence of the U.S. troops that was new to Augsburg. Totaling six rescue helicopters, the BAVARIAN DUSTOFF*) Air Ambulance was in charge of day and night SAR**) sorties not only in south Bavaria but also in Austria and north Italy.
With the well-known Bell UH-1H “Huey” rescue helicopters (called carpet beaters because of their sound), the American SAR was located at Gablingen Airfield, while one of the machines, however, was ready for take-off from the helipad next to the 30th Field Hospital at Flak Kaserne at any time. As the machines came from Vietnam, their condition was accordingly. Therefore, only one year later, they were replaced by new and better performing helicopters of the same type. Already at that time, helicopter readiness states were defined as follows: the 1st Up helicopter had to be launched within 15 minutes, the 2nd Up within 30 minutes and the 3rd Up within 45 minutes. Day and night, seven days a week. In 1987, six twin-engined Sikorsky UH-60A “Black Hawk” helicopters were added that could carry a 2-3 man crew plus 4-6 stretcher cases and 2-3 medics. These sophisticated machines featured excellent medical and all-weather equipment and were also available around the clock. Due to their 3-minute takeoff alert and a maximum speed of 269 km/h, cities within a radius of 100 km, like Regensburg or Landshut, could be reached in 15-20 minutes. The BAVARIAN DUSTOFF consisted of up to 50 medical and technical soldiers, including 12 pilots.
After the huge 7485 kg (normal weight) “Black Hawks” had entered service, the Bell UH-1H helicopters were stationed in a Gablingen hangar as reserve in case of eventual emergencies. The U.S. helicopters could be requested thru the search and rescue coordinator for up to 20 civilian sorties per week because the German ADAC (Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil Club) helicopters could fly only during the day and in fair weather. These sorties were executed in an unbureaucratic manner and, it is said, free of charge, including astonishing pinpoint landings. There was no doubt that a number of civilian lives had been saved only with the help of the DUSTOFFs. Beginning on October 15, 1989, only a single “Black Hawk” in Flak Kaserne was left, because due to the reorganization of the 236th Medical Detachment, the Gablingen machines were withdrawn. They were, however, replaced by other medical companies with their UH-1H helicopters. After the closure of the Flak Kaserne Hospital, the Air Ambulance was relocated – including their last helicopter – to Landstuhl / Pfalz in June 1992.
*) DUSTOFF = Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces
**) SAR = Search And Rescue
Bell UH-1H at Flak Kaserne. In the background, the Zentralklinikum
(Central Hospital) Augsburg. Photo: Andreas Liebau.