Provider Profile: DRF Luftrettung

One of DRF's H145 helicopters Copyright DRF Luftrettung

The iconic red and white helicopters of DRF Luftrettung changed the way that emergency medicine is delivered in Germany. AirMed&Rescue spoke to the air rescue organisation to find out about where the future of aviation medicine lies

On 19 March 1973, the first DRF Luftrettung rescue helicopter took to the air to bring emergency medical services to those most in need. With around 50 helicopters at 29 locations, it is now an integral part of the nationwide air rescue network in Germany, as well as operating two stations in Austria. Since its inception 45 years ago, it has launched about 900,000 operations.

The company said: “Safety, speed, modern technology and highest standards in a variety of areas have always characterised DRF Luftrettung. Our crews must be able to rely 100 per cent on helicopters and ambulance aircrafts. Therefore, their maintenance and further development play a decisive role. In addition, we set standards in medical quality assurance, which is monitored by our own doctors. The competence of our emergency physicians, paramedics, technicians and pilots guarantees the safety of our patients. In addition, we work hand-in-hand with the ground-based ambulance service to achieve our common goal: fast and comprehensive patient care.”



DRF Luftrettung operates a fleet of more than 50 helicopters, all Airbus BK 117, EC135, H135, or H145s, and there are also two Learjet 35As in operation for long-distance transports.

The H145 has been completely redesigned for medical and technical equipment. DRF Luftrettung, together with Bucher Leichtbau AG and the ADAC Luftrettung, entered into a co-operation agreement for the conception, development and approval of the innovative interior concept, and the benefits of the joint project are obvious. Both air rescue operators have brought more than 40 years of expertise into the concept and thus created a common standard. The result, which should be attractive to HEMS operators worldwide, is impressive: the uniform basic equipment is flexible and expandable to cover all deployment profiles. It is approved for several profiles, including:

  • Patient transports between clinics with the required intensive medical equipment.
  • Emergency operations with the emergency care equipment.
  • Winch inserts: for this purpose, the equipment is further reduced to capacity for rescue in mountains and forests, for example.
  • Major casualty: for this purpose, two carriers can be scaffolded for the transport of two patients.
  • Operations of 24/7 HEMS bases in Germany and those most experienced with night operations throughout Europe.


Emergency rescue division

All accidents in general (including traffic, leisure and work accidents), as well as illnesses, including heart attack and stroke, account for the major portion of rescue missions that DRF Luftrettung is called out for.

These missions often require patients being winched out of the incident environment; though not all helicopters are equipped with rescue winches, both helicopters in Austria are equipped with permanently installed rescue winches, as is DRF’s rescue helicopter Christoph 27, based in Nuremberg. As of January 2019, DRF Luftrettung also started operating in Bautzen, where a helicopter equipped with a rescue winch is stationed.

In Germany, one quarter of missions involve performing secondary transfers.


Night-time operations and NVGs

Right now, we are operating nine bases 24/7. As of January 2019, once we began operating in Bautzen, this number increased to 10. Whether or not a HEMS base is operated 24/7 depends on how the station’s characteristics have been defined in the tender offer. As one of Europe’s most experienced night-time operators, we’re able to equip and train crews reliably within a short period of time. In 2004, we were the first civilian air rescue organisation to introduce NVGs at our 24/7 bases.

Our crews undergo many different methods of training, and each take different lengths of time. Though we do also

co-operate with external partners, we are an approved training organisation and provide a wide range of in-house training services, including training in type rating, NVG, and winch rescue, as well as medical training using simulation devices. In 2004, we were the first to introduce simulation training for medical situations and we have continued to successfully use this highly effective method of training ever since.