LifeFlight Aviation Services

A LifeFlight helicopter takes off from Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“In EMS, we make a promise,” says LifeFlight of Maine CEO Joe Kellner. “When you call us, we will come.”

Reliability is crucial, and the expertise of the leadership team at LifeFlight Aviation Services, a division of LifeFlight of Maine, ensures that the aircraft are ready to fly whenever those calls come in.

As the director of operations, Pete Cartmell is responsible for ensuring that LifeFlight complies with its FAA approved policies and procedures and other regulations. “Somebody within the organization always has to know which aircraft is being utilized, where it is, who is flying it, and where it is headed,” Pete said. Safety is paramount, and following established, well-designed protocols keeps everyone safe.

Pete grew up in Vermont and after college enlisted in the Army. Soon after that, he went to flight school. He flew helicopters for the US Army and then the New Hampshire Army National Guard. He was deployed to Iraq twice and Afghanistan once as a medevac pilot. He retired in 2018 after 30 years of service to the day. In 2015, while still in the National Guard, he joined the LifeFlight of Maine team as a line pilot. He was promoted to chief pilot in 2021, and to director of operations in 2023.

As chief pilot, Kirk Donovan oversees all of LifeFlight’s pilots. It’s Kirk’s job to make sure they maintain their certifications and required training. Maine has some of the most complicated weather and terrain in the continental US and maintaining certifications with night vision goggles and instrument flight (IFR) allows LifeFlight pilots to reach more patients in more Maine communities in more weather conditions — it makes LifeFlight’s service more reliable.

Rotor wing pilot Kirk Donovan with a young LifeFlight supporter.
Rotor wing pilot Kirk Donovan with a young LifeFlight supporter.

Kirk grew up in Presque Isle, Maine, and Hartland, New Brunswick. He joined the US Army at 21 as a missile operator. He served on active duty for several years, then joined the Maine National Guard out of Bangor, which sent him to flight school. After working as the state counter-drug aviation training officer, he returned to active duty with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, which selects from among the best aviators in the Army. He concluded his military career training pilots for high-altitude rescue missions on Denali in Alaska. Kirk retired in 2019 after 25 years of service, returned to Maine, and began flying as a line pilot with LifeFlight. He was promoted to chief pilot in 2023.

Flying helicopters in Maine is complicated. From the mountains to the islands and everywhere in between, ice, snow, fog, wind, and other forces of nature conspire to keep aircraft on the ground. LifeFlight Aviation Services has recruited the best, most experienced pilots and built an advanced, industry-leading aviation program, so that the aircraft and crew can get to the patient and provide safe and reliable transport to the care they need.

LifeFlight of Maine gives people their best chance on their worst day, and its world-class aviation program is an essential part of making that possible.

First published as the November feature story in the LifeFlight of Maine 2024 Calendar.