AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County replaced their old fleet of STAR Flight helicopters with three newer models already in service Tuesday.
The new helicopters are larger, faster, and better-equipped to rescue residents when the need arises.
Travis County uses these helicopters when seconds matter — to quickly provide emergency medical care, especially in more remote areas. Occasionally these crews are called upon for weather-related missions, helping to fight wildfires or rescue people from flash floods.
The more powerful engines on the new fleet provide more thrust, hence the capability of carrying more water to douse wildfires. The helicopter can be quickly outfitted with a long cable underneath dangling a large water bladder, which the crew can fill from any body of water they spot close to an active fire.
This new water reservoir holds about 180 gallons of water, an increase from their previous capabilities. The firefighting equipment including a full bladder of water weighs around an additional 1,500 pounds.
New engines also mean the helicopters are faster and have longer range. This fleet’s cruising speed is 170 miles per hour, a big increase from the old model’s 138 mph. These two engines are so powerful that if a malfunction causes one engine to go out, they can still fly on the other one.
The new fleet of STAR Flight helicopters is not only better-suited for wildfire missions, but also much more capable when it comes to flying in bad weather.
This fleet can fly in lower visibility and lower cloud ceilings than the older helicopters due to a 3-D synthetic vision camera mounted on the nose that provides a live feed of terrain and obstacles to the pilot’s screen — even when the naked eye cannot clearly make them out.
The system also contains a database of three-dimensional hospital approaches in the area, giving the pilots better situational awareness even when the weather is bad.
The larger, wider body of the new aircraft allows for transverse mounting of the patient, and even the transport and medical care of two patients simultaneously. More room around the patient also allows for a larger medical team to provide care during transport.