AUSTIN, Texas (FOX 7 Austin) - The new STAR Flight helicopters are made by Italian-based Agusta-Westland. They are the first to be configured for EMS, fire and rescue in the United States.
Crew members spent June and July training in the three new aircrafts.
Real missions started earlier this month.
The new platform is a major upgrade for the service according to Operations Director Chuck Spangler. "Better than expected, in some sense, the aircraft has tons of power, our old aircraft we are kind of power limited, and this one has plenty of power and it can carry more and it's a much faster aircraft,” said Chuck Spangler.
On August 3, the AW 169 was use for the first time in the United States to transport a patient by a public air ambulance service. On August 8, the STAR Flight team performed the first hoist rescue in North America with the AW 169. And last Sunday, August 11, the helicopter was used for the first time in the nation for a water air drop targeting a grass fire in Spicewood.
Each STAR Flight mission, in the AW 169, sets a new national standard, but Spangler says the focus is not on being trailblazers."They are pretty humble about that stuff, they just go out and do their jobs that’s the way they look at themselves, but I think they are proud of themselves and proud of what we are doing,” said Spangler.
The new helicopters replace the familiar 145 Eurocopters.
Wednesday was an opportunity to say goodbye and to celebrate the last water drop from the old platform. The helicopter is familiar to Tara Chapman, the owner of Two Hives Honey. She and her employees were at the STAR Flight hangar because of a recent mission where she shared a special nickname for the crew. "The Bee-roes. Our bee heroes,” said Chapman.
The STAR Flight 145 Eurocopter, July 23rd, dropped water on a fire near Manor. The fire was moving into hives that Chapman had on the property. She recorded video as the fire was put out, stopping it prevented a 25% loss in honey production.
"That’s a lot for a small business, that they put their lives on the line to go out and save something so precious to us. So I'm so fortunate we got to bring out the whole team today to thank them, shake their hands and bring them some goodies and honey,” said Chapman.
The pilot for this last mission with the 145 was Joe LeBrecque. "It was a couple of days later actually where I realized, hey, that may be our last be our last flight, at that point we were still flying the aircraft."
It was a bitter-sweet moment for Joe. A few days later he was behind the controls of one of the new helicopters flying it's first firefighting mission.
Three of the older aircraft have already been sold and will be used in other cities. County Commissioners are expected to finalize the sale of the fourth later this month.