Airway control is the initial priority in the management of the injured patient. The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the experience of an aeromedical transport team in the utilization of rapid sequence induction (RSI) for endotracheal intubation in the prehospital setting. Records of a consecutive series of injured patients undergoing RSI between June 1988 and July 1992 by a university-based aeromedical transport team were reviewed for demographics, intubation mishaps, and pulmonary complications. The relationship between intubation mishaps and pulmonary complications was analyzed. Eighty-four patients were studied with a mean age of 30.8 +/- 15.3 years. The mean Revised Trauma Score was 11.3 +/- 2.4, and the mean Injury Severity Score (ISS) was 19.6 +/- 11.5. Intubation mishaps occurred in 15 patients (18%), and pulmonary complications developed in 22 (29%) of the 75 patients surviving longer than 24 hours. There was no relationship between intubation mishaps and pulmonary complications. Abbreviated Injury Scale (AIS) face score was significantly higher in patients with intubation mishaps, compared with patients without mishaps (1.1 +/- 1.2 and 0.5 +/- 0.9, respectively, P < .05, Wilcoxon rank-sum). ISS and AIS chest were higher in patients with pulmonary complications, compared with those without (25.7 +/- 12.6 and 17.4 +/- 10.3 and 2.2 +/- 1.8 and 1.0 +/- 1.5, ISS and AIS respectively; P < .05, Wilcoxon rank-sum). Eighty-one patients (96%) underwent successful RSI, 73 (87%) on the first attempt. Failure to intubate occurred in three patients (4%). Performed under strict protocol by appropriately trained aeromedical transport personnel, RSI is an effective means to facilitate endotracheal intubation in the injured patient requiring definitive airway control. Pulmonary complications were related to injury severity and not to intubation mishaps.