The Duncan Banner
There is a new bird in the sky. The Stephens County Sheriff’s Office’s “HUEY” made its official “public” first flight Friday, after being in the sheriff’s possession since October 2012.
For months, many area residents have questioned if a helicopter had been purchased by Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney.
The helicopter was acquired through the Law Enforcement Support Office, a function of the Department of Defense, the same way the Sheriff’s Office and other agencies has obtained other equipment such as generators and humvees, he said.
“There was a fee for transferring the use of the title from the federal government for the aircraft’s perpetual use to the county,” McKinney said. “It is a straight one-time fee of $5,000.”
The aircraft will be used for law enforcement support as well as search and rescue. McKinney says the aircraft’s largest purpose is for the fighting of wildfires. The aircraft is equipped with a small BAMBI bucket, used to pour water on fires from the sky, was obtained through military surplus. However, the sheriff said the bucket is designed for a smaller aircraft.
“That bucket is 150 gallons,” he said.“We hope to get a 400-gallon bucket in the future.”
McKinney estimates the larger bucket to cost anywhere between $15,000 to $18,000, which he said he will obtain however is necessary but is hoping to acquire grants for this purchase.
“That is just petty change when you talk about a big fire,” he said.
Before the helicopter was acquired by Stephens County, firefighters would have to wait on available aircraft supplied by Oklahoma Highway Patrol or other agencies.
“Time is of the essence,” McKinney said.
“You are looking at 6, 8, 10 hours or a day before you can get service out here sometimes,” he said.
Currently, the Stephens County Sheriff’s Office has two pilots available and on-call to respond to any needs for the helicopter. Sheriff Wayne McKinney and Deputy Kent Courkamp are licensed to fly the aircraft. Courkamp has over 10,000 hours of experience and McKinney has close to 10,000 hours of air time.
He also said they have received applications from an additional deputy already equipped with a license. The Sheriff’s Office has also trained Deputy Brandon Burchfield to act as crew chief. This position is responsible for maintaining the safety of people and objects on the ground during take-off and landing and also mans the radio during flight.
The aircraft, weighing 9,500 pounds, is powered by a Lycoming T53-L13 Turbine engine, which produces 1,400 shaft horsepower. At capacity, the helicopter is available to seat 15 people including the three-man crew.
McKinney said they will never have a need to seat that many people in the aircraft unless there was a dire emergency.
In its past life, the helicopter was used as a medivac aircraft by the Air Force. The aircraft never saw combat. It was stored at Fort Rucker, Ala., for several years being flown once about every two weeks to keep everything running well.
When they got the helicopter, McKinney said it was in excellent mechanical condition with only 6,890 hours of flight time but was cosmetically in bad shape.
Had the Sheriff’s Office had to pay to fix the cosmetic issues of the aircraft, McKinney estimated that they would have been responsible for $20,000 to $25,000. However, McKinney was contacted by Industrial Paint and Blast’s David Mullendore, who supplied the labor, prepwork and paint to have the outside of the helicopter completely stripped and repainted.
The graphics were placed on the aircraft by Monkey Business in Lawton.
McKinney said he does expect to be able to provide support to other counties outside of Stephens County as needed and possible including Jefferson County, Grady County, Comanche County and Carter County.
“We will support our surrounding counties as much as we can,” McKinney said.
The helicopter has not yet been used in an official capacity but McKinney said they have been flying it about an hour a week to gain familiarity with the aircraft and for training. After this initial period, McKinney expects to take it to the sky for one hour a month during the months there is no need for the aircraft.
Messages were left for county commissioner Dee Bowen, but were not returned, and Commissioner Lonnie Estes was at the Friday flight reveal.