Helicopter Landing Zones

Lamar High School


Johnson County Helispots

Isaac Rowbotham and Noah Taber

The Problem

Our project was created for the purpose of allowing the citizens of Johnson County to be able to reach a higher level of care swiftly. To solve this problem, we are creating a database of helispots so the rescuers don’t have to waste time finding suitable locations and finding coordinates in an emergency situation; when lives are at stake every second matters.

Community Partner Involvement

This project is made possible by The Johnson County Department of Emergency Management Deputy Director, Klay Rowbotham. Mr. Rowbotham came to our school and was a guest speaker. While he was presenting, he talked about mapping. Interested, we went to talk to him about future mapping projects we could potentially work on. In the process of discussing future projects, we were stuck on mapping helicopter landing zones.


Throughout this project, we forged stronger bonds of acquaintanceship. We learned how to work as a team. Before we started this project, we couldn’t work together as well. We were not capable of communicating properly. We had to work to communicate in order to see if that area was already marked and if it was correct. For example, one day Mr. Little was able to take us out to go surveying some nearby helispots that we already had.

Why helispots are important

For stroke patients, receiving treatment within the first hour is crucial to prevent permanent damage. It would take a traditional ambulance nearly an hour from the hospital to Moonhull, a community in rural Johnson County. Moonhull is 25 miles north tucked up unto the mountains. An air ambulance would typically take an average of 15-20 minutes but an air ambulance would take half the time.

Helispot Criteria

There are several criteria that are considered when determining suitable landing zones. A suitable landing zone must be a minimum of 200 ft by 200 ft, be flat, and be clear of obstructions in the area. We made our initial selections by using a web-based mapping software called CalTopo. Potential site selections were made by using aerial imagery and other base layers as well as other tools in the program. Once a site was selected, we marked it using United States National Grid (USNG) coordinates. For example, the coordinates of Helispot 6321 are 63564 21755, but when we categorize them by the first two coordinates. To add to the categorizing if we have two helispots within the same 1km square we simply put a dash and then a 2.

The Software

The software we used to map the helispots is a free, web-based application known as Caltopo. It can be used for recreation or for emergency management, and then you can use SARtopo, which has more features. This software is used by the Johnson County Department of Emergency Management for searches and exercises. It is easy to use, and creating an account is free.

How our project works

Our project works by allowing the emergency rescuers to refer to the map when rescuing someone so it reduces 5-15 minutes of looking for a suitable landing zone, thus theoretically saving lives. Just shaving off 5 minutes might not seem like much, but it can be the difference between life and death in an emergency situation.