Wiltshire Air Ambulance was launched in 1990 and has experienced many changes to its service throughout its existence.

In 2011, the Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust (WAACT) was formed to run the service, independent of the ambulance service.

A collaboration with Wiltshire Police ended in 2014, with the charity becoming a standalone operation a year later.

Then in 2018 Wiltshire Air Ambulance proudly moved to its own purpose-built airbase in Semington, near Trowbridge.

Follow the full timeline of our charity’s history below.

The journey so far

  • A scanned photo of a red helicopter landed in a field with police lifting a patient on a stretcher. 1988 The Beanacre mission that began it all

    The idea for a joint emergency services helicopter originated when a temporary helicopter hired by Wiltshire Police to use for its summer solstice operation at Stonehenge was used to airlift a woman who was seriously injured in a road traffic collision on the A350 at Beanacre, near Melksham.

    The crew onboard heard of the incident on their radios during flight and landed at the scene. They were told it was unlikely the woman would survive the journey to hospital by road, so decided to airlift her to the Royal United Hospital in Bath. The flight took five minutes and she survived.

  • 1989 Trial period agreed

    Following the Beanacre incident, Wiltshire Police decided to hire a helicopter for an extended three-month period and invited Wiltshire Ambulance Service to provide a paramedic to be part of the trial. The helicopter responded to criminal activities, while medical incidents were mostly road traffic incidents.

    The experiment was deemed a success and it was agreed by all parties that the citizens of Wiltshire would be best served by establishing a joint emergency services helicopter.

  • 1990 And so it begins...

    On 15 March 1990 a full-time joint helicopter began operating, based at the police headquarters in Devizes. The helicopter was a Bolkow 105 and would remain in operation for eight years.

    The crew comprised of a pilot (employed by Police Aviation Services), a police officer and a paramedic. The police officers were trained to assist the paramedics with their equipment, while the paramedics were given guidance to support with navigation, communications and videoing of pursuits.

  • The Wiltshire Air Ambulance helicopter and crew members posed with medical equipment 1991 Wiltshire Air Ambulance appeal is founded

    The Wiltshire Air Ambulance Appeal – the original charity set up to raise funds to pay to keep the air ambulance flying – is founded by Dr Dick Riseley-Prichard. He had been a key supporter of the service and focused on fundraising after retiring from the Royal Air Force.

    Dr Riseley-Prichard also became vice-chairman of Wiltshire Ambulance Service, which provided office space for the charity’s part-time staff and volunteers.

  • 1995 Working with the Police

    The police paid for two-thirds of the running costs of the helicopter, which was based at the Air Support Unit in Devizes, still at the Police headquarters.  

    The charity had to provide a contribution of £134,000 each year, and the funds were raised through a variety of ways, including farmers’ auctions, coffee mornings and large legacies.

  • Wiltshire Air Ambulance landed on the helipad at John Radcliffe Hospital at night 2001 A historic move into night flying

    The service extended its hours of operation from 10 to 19 hours a day, mainly due to the demand for medical emergencies. This meant Wiltshire Air Ambulance became the first air ambulance in the UK to fly at night.

  • The Wiltshire Air Ambulance MD 902 Explorer helicopter 1998 A more advanced helicopter

    In December, a more advanced helicopter – an MD 902 Explorer – was brought online to replace the Bolkow. The MD 902 Explorer had greater endurance, 80 per cent more cabin space and allowed side loading for patients. It was also quieter and safer because it had no tail rotor.

    Meanwhile, Dot Whitehead opened a charity shop in Westbury to raise funds for the service. Dot was inspired to set up the shop after a relative was airlifted.

  • 2007 Wiltshire Air Ambulance at risk

    Wiltshire was in danger of losing its air ambulance because Great Western Ambulance Service (which had replaced Wiltshire Ambulance Trust) contemplated not renewing the contract with Wiltshire Police for the joint helicopter.

  • A clipping from a local newspaper, the Gazette & Herald. 2008 We are saved!

    A successful campaign, organised by the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald newspaper, led to the helicopter contract being renewed for a further five-year term.

  • The Queen Consort visits Wiltshire Air Ambulance in Devizes 2009 The Royal seal approval

    The charity received the royal seal of approval when HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla, agreed to become its patron.

    HRH had visited the Air Support Unit in the previous year, meeting crew members, charity staff, volunteers, supporters and former patients.

    The first task undertaken by HRH in her new role was to draw the numbers for the charity’s new Lottery scheme, which had launched to boost income.

  • David Jason photographed with a pilot and paramedic 2010 A lovely jubbly visit

    Another famous face came to visit to celebrate the charity’s 20th anniversary, when actor Sir David Jason met the aircrew in Devizes. The Only Fools and Horses star was a patron of the Air Ambulances Association (which later merged with Air Ambulances UK).

  • 2011 A new charity is born

    Campaigners who were involved in the Gazette & Herald appeal to save Wiltshire Air Ambulance were now lobbying Great Western Ambulance Service to relinquish control of the charity.

    The hard work paid off and a new charity, independent of GWAS, was formed in October 2011, called Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charitable Trust.

  • The Wiltshire Air Ambulance Charity Shop in Westbury 2012 Changing times in Westbury

    The charity took over the running of the Charity Shop in Westbury following the sad passing of Dot Whitehead in December, aged 81.

  • A group photo of four paramedics and two pilots suits stood in front of the MD-902 helicopter in Devizes with Dr Dick Risley Pritchard, who has been presented with a model helicopter. 2013 Honour for our founder

    The charity’s trustees honoured Dr Riseley-Prichard for his 20-plus years of service and support to Wiltshire Air Ambulance at a special reception in Devizes.

    He was presented with a model of the MD 902 Explorer helicopter by the Lord-Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Mrs Sarah Troughton.

    “Any contribution I have made has really been a labour of love,” Dr Riseley-Prichard said at the time. “I’m absolutely inspired by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the pilots, paramedics and police observers.”

  • 2014 Lottery launched

    With the joint helicopter partnership with Wiltshire Police set to end, the charity began looking at ways to raise additional income.

    Members of the Lottery were now being given the chance to play in a Superdraw for an extra £1 per week. A potential jackpot of £25,000 was up for grabs in the Superdraw and it proved extremely popular.

    By now, the charity’s contribution had risen to £700,000 per year.

  • The old Wiltshire Air Ambulance MD-902 helicopter in the air, flying alongside the new Bell-429 helicopter. 2015 A new era as the Bell 429 arrives

    A new era was heralded in on 9 January 2015, with the charity operating as a standalone air ambulance for the first time, albeit still based at the police headquarters in Devizes.

    Now the charity would fly in a Bell 429 helicopter, with an aircrew configuration of one pilot and two critical care paramedics.

    It was the first time in the UK that a Bell 429 was used for Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) work. In comparison to the MD 902, the Bell 429 is faster, more powerful and provides a bigger cabin with the latest in-flight technology.

    Additionally, the charity begins carrying blood products on board in the form of O Negative red blood cells.

  • The opening of a new charity shop for Wiltshire Air Ambulance in Devizes 2016 A second Charity Shop in Devizes

    Building on the success of the Westbury Charity Shop, the charity opened a second premises in Devizes.

    The Major of Devizes, councillor Jane Burton, and TV star Paul Martin were on hand to cut the ribbon on Maryport Street.

  • 2017 Remembering Dr Dick Riseley-Pritchard

    Dr Dick Riseley-Prichard sadly passes away at the age of 92, leading to a period of mourning for the charity. In a fitting tribute, the hangar at the new airbase (see 2018) is named after him.

    The charity’s yearly fundraising target rose to £3.25million.

  • An aerial photo of the Wiltshire Air Ambulance airbase featuring the Bell-429 helicopter landing on its helipad. 2018 Moving to Semington in our new home

    Wiltshire Air Ambulance moved into its purpose-built airbase in Semington, near Trowbridge. It followed a lengthy search for an appropriate site and a successful capital appeal.

    It was a major milestone for the charity, with all of its aircrew and charity staff under the same roof for the first time.

    Staff moved into the premises in May, but had to move out again briefly a month later after the crew attended the second Novichok poisoning in Amesbury (they had also attended the first poisoning in Salisbury in March). It allowed authorities from Boscombe Down to check for contamination of the helicopter, critical care cars and airbase – there was none.  

    The official opening ceremony took place on 14 December 2018, with HRH The Duchess of Cornwall cutting the ribbon in a packed hangar.

  • 2019 Gaining our own Air Operator Certificate

    The charity – whose fundraising target had now increased to £3.75million – received their own Air Operator Certificate (AOC), which had previously been managed by the now defunct Heli Charter.

    At the time, Wiltshire Air Ambulance was one of only four charities to hold their own AOC.

    It meant the charity was able to return to flying HEMS missions in the Bell 429 after a short period where the helicopter was offline. In a nod to the past, they had also hired in an MD 902 over a three-month period.

    The charity begins carrying plasma (LyoPlas) on board to complement the O Negative red blood cells.

  • A paramedic wearing a white and blue hazmat suit, goggles and a face covering. 2020 Covid-19 affects birthday celebrations

    It was supposed to be the year that Wiltshire Air Ambulance “celebrated” its 30th anniversary – but then the Coronavirus pandemic hit.

    The charity’s airbase was closed to the public and charity staff, who had to work from home. The crew continued working on the frontline throughout the pandemic, donning PPE and sometimes even full hazmat suits.

    The Charity Shop in Westbury closed as the charity exercised a break clause in its lease of the premises. It came at a time when retail across the board was on a downturn and allowed the charity to focus all attentions on their Shop in Devizes.

    The year 2020 also saw Wiltshire Air Ambulance called to a record number of 1,238 missions.

  • Three doctors stood in front of a history timeline wearing blue face coverings. 2021 A new target as doctors arrive

    The charity saw its costs rise again to £4million a year as the charity enhanced its care by increasing the number of pre-hospital consultants (critical care doctors) shifts on its rota.

    Previously doctors had offered themselves for ad-hoc voluntary shifts for a number of years, but now four doctors would bring their valuable skills and experience to enhance the lifesaving service further on a regular basis.

  • A silver framed 'Pride of Wiltshire' award on a window ledge with the WAA helicopter in the background 2022 The Pride of Wiltshire

    The charity was presented with The Pride of Wiltshire Award at the Wiltshire Life Awards ceremony in March.

    We enter the ‘hall of fame’, alongside previous winners, such as Salisbury Cathedral and The Wiltshire Community Foundation.

    Wiltshire Air Ambulance also increased the number of red blood cell units carried on board its helicopter and critical care cars, meaning the charity can provide a level of care comparable with local hospital.

    The clinical team add two units of O Positive red blood cells to the existing two units of O Negative red blood cells and four units of Lyoplas.

  • A black and white photograph of a pilot stood in front of the helicopter wearing a flight suit. 2023 Rob Collingwood 1980-2023

    We were heart-broken when our much-admired pilot, Rob Collingwood, passed away in April, following a short battle with cancer, aged 42.

    Rob joined Wiltshire Air Ambulance in 2016 after serving over 10 years in the British Army, flying Lynx helicopters in the Army Air Corps. He also spent a year in the North Sea flying to the oil rigs.

    Rob loved working for the charity and the staff loved him. He was so passionate about our cause and understood the importance of being a team player.

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