Flight History

For over 60 years, medical evacuations by air have been a vital part of island living. Beginning in 1947 – the same year the nation’s first civilian air ambulance service began in California — commercial air service commenced in the San Juan Islands. Roy Franklin, a legendary aviation pioneer, used a pasture west of Friday Harbor as a landing strip for his Stinson Bushman that could be outfitted for medical evacuations a decade before there was a real airport on San Juan Island.

Dr. Malcolm Heath, known simply as “Doc”, was a larger than life figure that provided medical service during this time. On call around the clock, Roy and “Doc” safely transported hundreds of patients any time, day or night, for over three decades driven by a passion to serve their island communities. Without knowing it at the time, these two pioneers informally developed the first civilian air ambulance capability in the Pacific Northwest.

Beginning in 1985, the “MedFlight” subscription air ambulance program was established that included a helicopter based at Bellingham with local fixed wing services provided by Aeronautical Services, co-founded by Roy’s son, Steve Franklin. A 1996 article in Emergency Medicine reported that the medical system in-place on San Juan Island during this period yielded cardiac survival rates that were better than almost all urban areas and the island system could be a model for other rural communities. Coordination with air ambulance services was cited as one of the reasons for this successful program. Beginning in the late 1990’s, Island Air, Inc. began to provide backup fixed wing services for the MedFlight program. Due to rising costs, the MedFlight program was discontinued in 2002.

Due to a growing need and increased regulation, Island Air Ambulance was officially formed in 2007 as a service of San Juan Island EMS with all aviation services (pilots and planes) provided by aviation partner Island Air, Inc. Once again, islanders came together to make things happen.  Not surprisingly, the stretcher system used in the aircraft was funded by community donations and the FAA approval was accomplished by the innovative work of Will and Jackie Hamilton and the pilots of Island Air, Inc. The specially configured Cessna aircraft are equipped to accommodate stretcher-bound patients and the EMS personnel who accompany them. State of the art medical equipment and progressive medical protocols are utilized for optimal patient care and safety.  Patients are generally flown to the airport nearest the hospital or medical facility at which they are to receive care, and then met by an ambulance to complete the transport.

The aircraft are certified for IFR (instrument flight rules) operations and are capable of landing at all major mainland airports and more than 14 island airfields serving virtually all of the major islands in San Juan County. In many cases, a family member can also accompany the patient and there is zero out-of-pocket cost for district residents.

Island Air Ambulance and Island Air, Inc. embrace the pioneering spirit of Roy Franklin and “Doc” Heath available at any time, day or night, to provide exceptional compassionate care in the air.


All aviation services, aircraft, pilots and mechanics are provided by Island Air, Inc. 

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