(Photo caption: In January, years of hard work and anticipation culminated in less than three adrenaline-fueled minutes at the Barrett-Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, as a unique collector car sold for $1 million in support of STARS’ fleet renewal capital campaign. The custom-built 1968 Ford Mustang 427 Fastback was the focus of the Pegasus Project, a fundraising initiative for STARS led by a group of Saskatchewan community and business leaders.)

Thanks to the generous support of our allies, STARS has reached its Keep the Fight in Flight capital campaign fundraising goal.

The campaign was launched in 2018 to renew STARS’ fleet with nine Airbus H145 helicopters, at a cost of $13 million each.

“Our supporters ride along with us on every mission, and over the past four years have been helping us build the next STARS fleet,” said Terri Strunk, STARS’ chief fundraising and brand officer.

However, there is still more fundraising to do.

“STARS has purchased a tenth H145 helicopter which will be arriving later this year and as a result, there are still opportunities for donors to be part of the fleet renewal program which will serve the most critically ill patients for decades to come.”

Meanwhile, training of our Grande Prairie and Edmonton flight crew is under way, and the H145 will be welcomed to those bases this spring. The H145 will be implemented at all six bases within months.

Each helicopter’s first mission is the result of years of planning, training, and preparation. While each H145 is built in Germany, our aircraft maintenance engineers become H145 experts by undertaking 240 hours of classroom and hands-on training in Ontario and Texas. Next are the pilots, who complete online study, technical ground training, simulation and flight training.

According to chief pilot Alan Baldwin, the sophisticated flight simulator used at the Airbus training facility is close to using a real aircraft. “Regardless of each pilot’s previous flying experience, by the end of training all pilots are very comfortable with the H145,” said Baldwin.

The H145 medical interior is different than STARS’ previous helicopters, and the training created and delivered in-house for our flight crew reflects that.

“We recognized that operating in this aircraft would change many of our usual practices as a team,” said STARS’ H145 clinical education lead Kellie Ann Vogelaar. “We created scenarios to allow for a lot of hands-on practice, incorporating all the mission profiles we could encounter.”

Aircraft acceptance critical step

Several weeks before its first mission, each new aircraft is inspected by STARS at the Airbus facility.

“Helicopters are extremely complicated, and STARS’ H145s have a unique configuration,” said Scott Young, STARS captain and director of fleet implementation. “The acceptance process ensures the helicopter meets our contracted specifications.”

Once a new helicopter arrives at a STARS base, all teams work through a detailed checklist, ensuring everything is ready for the aircraft to enter service.

According to Vogelaar, it is “all hands on deck” to get each aircraft ready for its first mission. “Most rewarding is seeing all the hard work of training and preparation come together for our crew to seamlessly deliver critical care to patients in need.”