Picture yourself at the wheel of a bouncing pickup truck on a twisty, pothole-riddled road. Now imagine there’s a medical professional in the back, trying to establish an IV line in a suffering patient. What’s more, the patient has traumatic physical injuries. Not good.
Our pilots have to think about turbulence like that, along with a host of other factors, every time the STARS Emergency Link Centre pre-alerts them to a potential mission.
The prairie provinces in Canada often have extreme winds, which leads people to ask: When is it too windy for STARS to fly? Fact is, the turbulence that can come with wind is a much bigger concern than the speed of the wind itself.
While our helicopters and pilots can withstand high winds and a rough ride, it doesn’t mean it’s the right transport option for the patient in the back.
The decision to accept or decline any STARS flight request always rests with our pilots. When they’re alerted to a potential mission, they first evaluate weather conditions to determine if they can safely get to the patient’s location and back and whether the flight would be safe for everyone involved.
If their network of weather sources sees a lot of turbulence on the flight path, they might need to decline the mission or look for a way around rough patches. But if winds are consistent and steady (laminar), with minimal turbulence, there’s a stronger likelihood they can accept.
When it comes to laminar winds, the strength of the wind primarily affects how long a flight takes. Head winds slow us down, tail winds speed us up.
The BK117, the helicopter we fly most, has one particular wind-related limitation: It is unsafe to start up or shut down in wind speeds over 50 knots (about 90 km/h) due to the risk of the overhead blade striking another part of the aircraft when it’s rotating at a low speed. When it’s rotating at high speed, however, that risk is eliminated.
The bottom line is, our aircraft can take a lot of wind, but if it means an unsafe ride for the people inside, it probably won’t happen. Don’t worry, though; our STARS Emergency Link Centre specialists have other transport options to explore within the greater health care system, and will do whatever they can to ensure a patient gets to the care they need.