On the wall next to the Red Phone (not the colour of the phone, but the phone through which we receive our emergency calls - it's actually white) at each of our airbases is an aviation chart covering the South West peninsula. The crew uses this chart to plot the ‘Track and Distance’ from the airbase to the incident location.

This fantastic piece of 'technology' isn’t new having been designed almost since the start of aviation itself and although we now have modern digital alternatives in flight, we still use what is in effect a map, a length of string and a weight to help us plot our track and distance to the incident initially. 

The image above is of our Exeter Airbase Track and Distance map and centred over Exeter is a compass rose depicting the 360 degrees of a circle. Resting in the middle of the compass rose is a ‘Devon Air Ambulance’ pin badge which it attached to a length of chain (it used to be string but we upgraded to a more durable alternative!) which itself it attached to a weight located at the edge of the map.

When we are deployed to an incident the crew pull the air ambulance pin badge and extend it so that it rests over the top of where our incident is, in the example opposite I have chosen the lovely village of Horrabridge between Tavistock and Yelverton.

The chain that is attached to the pin badge is pulled with it and dissects the compass rose indicating the compass bearing, or ‘track’ from our airbase that the pilot needs to fly to reach the incident. In the example opposite the chain dissects the compass rose at 235 degrees.

The weight that is attached to the chain is suspended from the top right hand corner of the map which means that when the pin badge is extended the weight is lifted up the side of map. We have marked a scale on the side of the map which corresponds to the distance that the pin badge is extended. So as we pull the pin badge and rest it over Horrabridge the distance as the crow flies, or in our case as the helicopter flies, is indicated by the weight as about 32 miles.

Knowing we fly at a speed which covers approximately 2½ miles every minute we can use the distance indicated to ascertain how long it will take us to fly to the incident, which for Horrabridge would be around 13 minutes. A head wind would slow us down a little but a tail wind would get us there even quicker!

The process of extending the pin badge over an incident location on our Track and Distance map takes just a few seconds and provides us with the essential information we need to start our planning our flight to  enable us to reach and then treat the patient(s). 

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