Air Ambulance History

In the modern world, helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes are used for air ambulance service. Utilizing a highly trained staff, these aircraft transport injured and sick people from remote areas to hospitals where they can receive urgently needed care. Air Ambulance Service has a fascinating history that is directly connected to the advances made in air travel. Many of the technologies currently in use today have their roots in the last century of flight.

Early Days

It is thought that the first time an airplane was used as an ambulance occurred not long after the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903. People immediately recognized that being able to fly would save crucial time for those who needed immediate medical attention. During World War I, the British army used a biplane to move a critically wounded soldier out of Turkey to a hospital. Total flight time was 45 minutes, avoiding a dangerous three-day journey over land.


Expansion in the 1920s

During the 1920s, the idea of air ambulances continued to grow. Great Britain and France used planes as military ambulances during conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. The United States, which had a military presence in Central America, created the Air Army Corps that moved patients from Nicaragua to Panama, a trip of 150 miles. Aside from military use, those living in remote areas of Scandinavia, Canada and Australia would fly doctors in to give medical treatment in isolated villages, expanding the use beyond just transport.

1930s and World War II

As interest in flight continued to grow, the first modern ambulance company was established in Los Angeles in 1932. The Schaefer Ambulance Service provided numerous options for transport, including by air. The founder, Walter Schaefer, would go on to found the California Ambulance Association after the end of World War II, which would be the basis of the air ambulance industry that exists today. In 1936, hospitals in Germany used aircraft to get medical care to fascists in Spain. By 1940, Switzerland used air ambulances to transport injured skiers to hospitals. The benefits of using planes to save lives was now very clear.<

Post World War II

As time moved on, helicopters came to play a prominent role in air medical transport because of their extensive maneuverability. This allowed for the quick extraction of wounded during the Korean and Vietnam wars. A policy paper published by the National Academy of Science in 1966 urged hospitals to consider air ambulance service for the critically ill and injured. The document helped to establish a medical response system across the nation with Denver’s St. Anthony’s Hospital launching its own air ambulance service in the early 1970s.

The Modern Era

Today, there is a universal acceptance of air ambulance services. While some focus on evacuation and rescue, others specialize in the transport of injured or ailing people from one medical facility to another. In some cases, commercial medical escorts are available for patients who are able to take a commercial flight. All air ambulance services must adhere to the guidelines set by the Commission on Air Medical Transportation Systems and the United States government. The accreditations ensure that a service is providing the best technology and continued education for its staff. In Europe, the same standards are put forth by the EURAMI accreditation organization for those services operating there.


The last century has seen air ambulance service grow from an idea into a major industry that helps patients every day. Those who are critically ill or injured are able to receive needed care faster than ever, which can be the difference between living and dying. Patients in rural areas are able to get the care they need when it is not available to them locally. Another option for those patients capable of travel on commercial airlines can do so with the help of a commercial medical escort. This where a Nurse or Paramedic travels with the patient on board a commercial flight to assist with medical needs. As the industry continues to evolve, the standard for patient care will continue to get better. Currently, patients can get treatment in the air that used to only be available in a standard hospital.

Medical Transport Services is standing by to serve the needs of patients. Call 1-800-687-0607 or visit the website today.

2 Responses

    One area of concern that is seldom mentioned, if at all, by transport services is the need for transporting people that are defined as “structurally insufficient without basal or lateral support” (severely obese). As a past fireman, I experienced situations where emergency or non-emergency transport needed for these people was lacking. In some cases, we had to use the fire apparatus bed, rigged with ladders and tarps to stretcher the subject to medical services. As our population struggles with increasing Body Mass Indexes, are the transport services showing a growth in similar considerations?


      You are absolutely right! It is very difficult to find bariatric transportation. It is another under served area of the medical transportation field.

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