“The cost of this thing was very reasonable for the capabilities it offers, and the capabilities are just phenomenal,” said McKinney.
Commonly referred to as a “Huey,” the Bell UH-1H was recently retired from service at Ft. Rucker, Ala. where the sheriff and a mechanic inspected it in October and agreed the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) could use the 1974 helicopter to fight fires, conduct search and rescue operations and other law enforcement support roles.
“It’s not a patrol helicopter – and that’s not what we bought it for. We would have bought a different type of aircraft if we intended it to be used for patrol activities. This helicopter is for major problems – like an ice storm, wildfires and search & rescue operations,” said McKinney.
Once flown back to Oklahoma, the helicopter was painted and had SCSO graphics applied. McKinney said Industrial Paint and Blast painted the helicopter for free. He estimated it would have cost $25,000 otherwise.
“This is a great asset for Stephens County and surrounding counties. I don’t know how we can go wrong. It will be a very good tool,” said County Commissioner Lonnie Estes. Commissioner Dee Bowen was unavailable for comment and Commissioner Darrell Sparks had no comment.
McKinney and reserve deputy, Kent ‘Corky’ Courkamp will pilot the Huey, while SCSO deputy Brandon Burchfield, will serve as crew chief. McKinney has almost 10,000 hours of flight time while Courkamp has in excess of 10,000 hours.
The Air Force helicopter has not seen combat duty and has accumulated 6,900 hours since new. Other helicopters available in LESO’s inventory had 12,000 hours, or more. For comparison, a 1966 UH-1H was found online and had 14,200 hours with an asking price of $550,000.
The aircraft can carry 12 plus the 3 crew members, and it is equipped with a 150 gallon BAMBI bucket from state surplus. A BAMBI bucket carries and disperses water onto fires. McKinney hopes to acquire a larger bucket or a belly-mounted tank to improve fire-fighting abilities.
According to McKinney, if the county requests aerial fire support, it typically takes eight to ten hours and comes from the Tulsa area.
When asked why the helicopter was just now being unveiled McKinney responded, “We didn’t want to bring it out until it was operational. It needed quite a few repairs that we made through a Homeland Security grant.”
The Marlow Review posted photos and a video on the social media website, Facebook. Comments from Facebook users were mixed. A sampling follows.
“That will be a huge help during wildfire season, as well as dealing with a multitude of law enforcement issues that are better served from the air,” said Rep. Joe Dorman.
“Stop wasting my money,” said Trey Mackey.
“At ~$850 per HOUR for fuel and maintenance not counting the salaries of the pilots and crew Im (sic) not sure we can afford the Sheriffs (sic) new toy? Do we really need this expense? Do we really need an airmobile capability in Stephens County? The price of any aircraft, is the small part,” said Bob Lillard.
“That chopper is going to be priceless when the SCSO has to go on manhunts and assist with wildfires,” said Kyle Wheeler.
“I can’t wait to be pulled over by that,” said Shawn Slawson.
“WHY? I just don’t understand why we needed to spend the money on that, but what the hell if I could afford it I would have one!” said Derrick S Tanner.
”Obviously you cannot please everyone, it is beyond me why anyone would not see this as a plus,” said Larry Armstrong.
“What a joke,” said Jeannie McGrew Williams.
McKinney expects to fly the aircraft one hour per month to keep parts lubricated and in working order, and he said it burns about 50 gallons per hour of Jet-A fuel, which currently costs $5.70 per gallon at the Duncan airport.
LESO is a subdivision within the Defense Logistics Agency who manages the Department of Defense’s surplus property sales program. According to their website, “In fiscal 2008, $2.2 billion worth of property was reutilized.”
LESO has provided:
- M-16 rifles to Duncan and Comanche – $50 transfer fee each
- Humvees to Duncan and SCSO – $800 transfer fee
- Generators to SCSO – $400-$500 transfer fee