New Helicopter Lands At CCSO

The Collier County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Bureau is welcoming the newest aircraft to its fleet, a Bell UH-1H. More commonly known as a Vietnam-era Huey.

The aircraft will be used in a variety of search-and-rescue missions as well as wildfire battles. The need for this kind of aircraft with the ability to carry and dump water was highlighted earlier this year when Golden Gate Estates saw a rash of wildfires damage homes and properties. The Huey has been outfitted with a 240-gallon bucket that will be used to scoop and dump water onto raging fires.

When it comes to search-and-rescue missions, the Huey will do the job of several aircraft and personnel.

In the past, when a hiker was reported missing in the Everglades, a pilot would have to search the swamps with thermal imaging cameras and spotlights before radioing the location of a victim to deputies on the ground. Sometimes, deputies would have to wait while a helicopter from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue responded with a hoist.

“Instead of spending four hours directing people in, we’ll be able to hoist them out ourselves,” Lt. Sean Arthur, the Aviation Unit supervisor, said.

The massive chopper was built in 1968. In 1971, it reported for its first tour of duty in Vietnam where it was shot and damaged just one month later. It returned to the U.S. for repairs and entered the fray again first with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, then with the U.S. Border Patrol and finally with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operations office.

Eventually, the helicopter was sold and the CCSO bought the surplus craft for $400,000. The agency spent an additional $350,000 to retrofit the craft and train deputies to fly it. The upgrades included new floors, upholstery, intercom system, hoist, cargo hook and video cameras as well as a new paint job sporting the green, gold and white found in the CCSO’s logo.

The craft can safely carry eight to 10 people and up to 4,000 pounds. Lt. Arthur expects it will be used frequently to aid local agencies in similar search-and-rescue missions.

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