In the Spotlight – Pilot David Gifford

“I’ve had a keen interest in aircraft and aviation since childhood. I started off flying fixed wing aircraft when I was a teenager; instructing on gliders, getting my Private Pilot License (aeroplanes) with the aid of scholarships and completing a degree in Aerospace Technology.

After university I moved away from aviation for a little when I commissioned into the British Army as an Officer but went into the Infantry with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers rather than flying. I had a great six years there which included the opportunity, on numerous occasions, to be operational from the back of a helicopter.

In hindsight this has given me a unique perspective when flying our medical crews.

I left the British Army to go back to aviation, initially flying out to oil rigs in the North Sea before coming onshore to fly HEMS.

My first connection to HEMS was when my father passed away in 2016, a year and a half before I first flew with KSS. He was attended by his local Air Ambulance. I was not there but know that he would have had an expert medical team attend to him which, I’m sure, would have been a big comfort to him at the time, as he had called 999 himself.

When talking to the public while out on HEMS tasks about their connections and affiliations with KSS this link makes me realise how important our charity is to the local population. I often say to people that this is ‘their’ helicopter, when they ask to approach and have pictures taken with the helicopter – I truly believe this impression of ownership is an important link to KSS for the local community.

Flying HEMS is great, you are part of a team of professionals putting all your skills together to achieve a life-saving service.

When you get tasked the team of dispatchers, pilots, paramedics and doctors, as well as the on-call team, have ownership of that mission. I enjoy the dynamic decision-making that’s required especially when there is a complex number of variables to consider at times and, to be completely honest, I love flying.

Piloting the AW169 requires a mix of basic ‘hand flying’ skills, as you would expect, as well as being a systems operator depending on the phase of flight. You manage the aircraft in order to get the best out of it.

As HEMS pilots with KSS we have a unique opportunity to land in a diverse range of landing sites. In our operating area we have many towns and cities, including London, the interesting geography of the Downs and the Weald, an expansive motorway/major road network and a large coastal area. These all bring individual challenges to landing site selection and helicopter operations.

Every day is different, especially when you layer night flying with the Night Vision Imaging System (NVIS), poor weather and winter operations on top. You never stop learning in this role.

We have a fantastic positive team of people throughout KSS which means it is a pleasure, as well as a privilege, to be part of. In addition, being a West Sussex resident, living in a village just off the South Downs with my wife and two children, getting to operate in my ‘back garden’ is a bonus!”


Saving lives when every second counts

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