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Deputies Flying High Again in New Copter

More than a year after a Ventura County sheriff’s helicopter was destroyed by fire, the department has replaced it with a faster, lighter craft, equipped to detect lost hikers or crooks fleeing at night.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Tennessen said the McDonnell Douglas 530F helicopter was purchased in December, 1993, from the Bank of America. And after a year of being fitted with an infrared sensor and special lighting that will allow the pilot and crew chief to use night-vision goggles, the craft is in the air over Ventura County.

The sensor picks up the heat emitted by humans or animals and projects the figures on a screen in the cockpit.

“It’s going to be helpful where we have pursuits,” said Lt. Gary Markley, a patrol watch commander. “Rather than endangering life and property, at least in some cases, the helicopter will be able to follow the car.”

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On a test flight over Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks last month, Tennessen said the sensor “picked up deer from 300 or 400 (feet) in the air and you could see the ears wiggle.”

The copter began flying patrols on Friday and Saturday nights several weeks ago. It will also be used for search-and-rescue operations in remote areas and for identifying hot spots in forest fires.

The sheriff’s air unit will continue to rely on two larger Huey helicopters for dropping large buckets of water on wildfires and for transporting patients during medical rescues.

The Hueys have a cruising speed of about 90 m.p.h., while the McDonnell Douglas can fly at 140 m.p.h. And while the Hueys guzzle 90 gallons of fuel per hour, the 530F consumes just 38 gallons. The 530F is also a quieter copter, a feature sheriff’s officials hope will lead to fewer noise complaints from residential areas.

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The 530F replaces a Bell helicopter destroyed in June, 1993, during a controlled burn in Cheeseboro Canyon.


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