Stephens Co. Sheriff's Dept. Gets New Helicopter

Published: Apr. 19, 2013 at 8:12 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 24, 2013 at 1:56 PM CDT
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STEPHENS CO., Okla_ The Stephens County Sheriff's Department has a new large piece of equipment that will help the department fight fires or crime from a bird's eye view.

Friday, the department unveiled their UH-1H helicopter, more commonly known as a Huey. They acquired the aircraft back in October through a government-run donation program. The chopper, once used for military purposes, will now be utilized in manhunts and more importantly during grassfires.

The department has been on a waiting list for the donation the past three years. They took advantage of a government-run program that gives law enforcement agencies the opportunity to have items like military humvees, weapons, and helicopters donated to them that the government is no longer using.

"They bought thousands of Huey helicopters for all branches of service in the 60's and 70's," Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney said. "This was the workhorse for the army especially."

It's still in demand. McKinney said his department's new asset would never have been made possible had it not been donated.

"The government paid 900-and-something-thousand for this aircraft in the 70's," McKinney said. "In today's time, $3M is what something like that would cost."

This aircraft will come in handy. It's now equipped to carry 150 gallons of water and can carry up to 400. McKinney said when wildfires strike, time and resources are crucial.

"I saw those people lose everything they own," McKinney said. "Money wasn't the big thing. It's losing items that have personal value, your pictures, your pets, things like that. "We lost a firefighter in 2006. You can't put a price tag on it."

McKinney said while the chopper will be most utilized during times of wildfire, it can also be used to fight crime. He said in the case of a manhunt, a chopper can help flush the criminal into their hands.

"One good thing about an aircraft is that you can see down through the brush and trees," McKinney said. "So, if you have someone that is dug in and is hiding from you, you can see him through the trees and direct the ground officers into his location."

While it's clear this chopper belongs to the Stephens County Sheriff's Department, it didn't always look that way. In fact, it started out military green, but thanks to a generous donation from a local paint company, McKinney said it went from dull to new.

"I wouldn't have been able to afford it," McKinney said. "We would have to have made due with the paint as it was. To paint this, it would be $20,000-$25,000."

McKinney said his department will make their chopper available to surrounding departments if needed. McKinney, along with one of his deputies, has a pilot's license. Between the two of them, they have nearly 20,000 hours of flight time.

While the chopper was donated by the government at no cost, the department did have to pay a one time fee of $5,000 to have the title transferred into their name. The helicopter brand new runs several million dollars.