“At least once a day, every day.”
That’s the number of times STARS engineer Matt Brereton estimates the engine cover on the helicopter in front of him has been opened and closed. Multiply it out by 30 years, and you end up with a lot of engineering effort spent to keep our fleet safely in the air.
For an engineer like Brereton, every panel, wire bundle, and hydraulic line on the aircraft is as familiar to him as the streets in the town he grew up in. It’s more than a matter of pride – lives are on the line.
When news coverage of a STARS mission airs, it’s common to see images of the blue-suited air medical crew hurriedly loading a patient or the distinctive red helicopter streaking across the sky. What is almost never shown are the countless hours of hard work performed by engineers to ensure the aircraft and its occupants safely reach their destination.
STARS employs a team of 24 aircraft maintenance engineers across our six bases to ensure the 11 red helicopters comprising our fleet are mission-ready at all times. Every year, thousands of parts and countless hours are spent on our engineering program.
Brereton, a STARS employee since 2010, marvels at the change he’s seen over his time with the organization. “With opening new bases in new provinces and nearly doubling our engineering team, it’s been a time of intense effort and huge change,” he remarked.
A regular periodic maintenance schedule is mandated by every aircraft manufacturer, necessitating the engineering team to periodically take apart a helicopter to inspect and maintain it. Outside of these times, engineers may be called upon to perform an unplanned repair if an issue is reported by the pilots or noticed by the engineers themselves while in between missions.
In the early days of STARS, engineering was performed by a contracted aviation organization called Airlift Corp. This corporation provided aviation services to STARS from our very first mission, and was eventually folded into the non-profit Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society once STARS gained the size and expertise to manage our own aviation program. (As a side note, this is why the name Airlift can often be seen in historical images of STARS helicopters).
Lance Robson, STARS’ helicopter maintenance manager, started with the organization in 1997, and remarks at the evolution he’s seen in the aircraft under his care. “Over the years, we started with a basic medical interior and we’ve evolved it and built it to meet the needs of our medical crew and pilots,” he said.
When asked about interesting stories from his years at STARS, he remarks he’s glad he doesn’t have many to tell – as an engineer, he says his goal is to see an uneventful flight each and every time, which is ample reward for him and his team.
“We’re not fanfare kind of guys,” remarked Robson. “We take pride in a smooth, clean, well-running machine, and we’re happy to be quietly in the background creating that for STARS.”