Medical helicopters, or air ambulances, usually fly at 120 mph.

The exact speed of either vehicle in a real emergency depends on multiple factors, such as road and air traffic

It remains disputed whether air ambulances are always faster than ground ones, with some studies suggesting the latter are better for shorter distances.

In any case, medical helicopters contain well-trained and experienced medical teams that provide urgent medical services to patients and are vital for accessing remote locations where medical attention is needed.

Popular Medical Helicopters Speeds

Most air ambulances fly as fast as 120 miles per hour.

The exact speed of a medical helicopter depends on the type of aircraft. 

These are 3 of the most popular medical helicopters in the world and their speeds: 

  1. Eurocopter EC 135: The Eurocopter EC 135 has a maximum flying speed of 200 km/h.
  2. Eurocopter EC 145: The Eurocopter EC 145 has a maximum flying speed of 210 km/h. 
  3. Eurocopter AS 365 Dauphin: The Eurocopter AS 365 It has a maximum flying speed of 210 km/h. 

When Medical Helicopters Are Used

Medical helicopters are used for emergency situations that urgently need medical support.

Air ambulances can fly short distances, land patients directly at hospitals, and travel faster than ground ambulances. 

How Much Faster is a Helicopter Than an Ambulance?

Medical helicopters can be anywhere from 6 km/h to 80 km/h faster than ambulances.

The exact speed of each depends on multiple factors, including traffic, road conditions, and the vehicle’s/aircraft’s level of maintenance, etc. 

It’s also disputed whether air ambulances are always faster than ground ones.

One paper found that ground ambulances provided the shortest emergency travel time for distances smaller than 10 miles.

The same paper also reported that air ambulances were faster for distances greater than 10 miles. 

As a result, it appears that a helicopter is faster than an ambulance, and to what extent depends on the situation.

Ground ambulances are generally faster at shorter distances when the road is clear. Air ambulances are faster for slightly longer distances when travel by road isn’t feasible. 

How Far and High Medical Helicopters Fly

Medical helicopters normally fly between 2,000 and 2,500 feet, which is much lower than the average altitude of 12,000 to 15,000 feet that most helicopters fly at.

Medical helicopters are considered business-class aircraft. So, they usually fly distances of around 100 miles or slightly more. 

Medical Helicopters Can Land Anywhere

The nature of their role causes medical helicopters to land and take off from almost anywhere.

Medical helicopters could take off and land from airports, a patient’s house, or even the wilderness.

Medical helicopters are also legally permitted to land in most places, although some states have more specific restrictions than others regarding this. 

For example, a medical helicopter may need permission from a homeowner to land on their property. 

How Much an Air Ambulance Flight Costs

The average air ambulance flight covers 52 miles and costs between $12,000 and $25,000.

The exact cost of an air ambulance flight depends on multiple factors, including the helicopter’s model and its quality of maintenance. 

Largest Air Ambulance Companies in the U.S.

These are the 4 largest air ambulance companies in the United States:

  • 1. Air Evac Lifeteam 

Air Evac Lifeteam is the largest air ambulance company in the country, and it includes medical ambulance services on the East Coast and in the South. 

  • 2. AirLife Georgia 

AirLife Georgia company provides services in the state of Georgia and surrounding areas. 

  • 3. Air Methods 

Air Methods is America’s largest air ambulance service provider that operates under a FAA Part 135 certificate.

  • 4. Mercy Flights

Mercy Flights was the first successful air ambulance in the country. They mainly serve Southern Oregon and Northern California.

  • 5. Trauma Hawk Aero-Medical Program

Trauma Hawk is funded by Florida taxpayers and only transports trauma patients. 

Medical Helicopters Crew & Personnel

Medical helicopters have highly qualified medical flight crew on board to ensure the quality of medical care.

The medical crew is responsible for reviewing a patient’s medical history, ensuring the patient receives proper medical care, and ensuring appropriate onboard medical equipment is employed. 

U.S. medical helicopters normally have a flight registered nurse or an ALS flight paramedic to care for the patient.

For instance, if the patient is on a ventilator, a paramedic with respiratory experience is on board to provide assistance. 

In conclusion:

  • Medical helicopters normally fly around 120 km/h.
  • Medical helicopters are likely faster than most ground ambulances, which drive between 6 km/h to 80 km/h slower.
  • Medical helicopters aren’t always faster, though. Some research has found that medical helicopters are only preferable for distances exceeding 10 miles, with ground ambulances outcompeting air ambulances for distances shorter than 10 miles.
  • As a result, air ambulances are preferred for emergencies that involve more distance and can’t easily be reached by ground ambulances.
  • Air ambulances are given full clearance to land in hospitals, homes, and even the wilderness.
  • Medical helicopters have highly trained flight medical staff that provide urgent medical attention to patients.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.