The Spokane County Sheriff's Office is taking ownership of two more helicopters to add to its Air 1 program courtesy of the U.S. Army.
The Army has turned over two OH-58 Kiowas to the Spokane County Sheriff. The helicopters, based on the Bell JetRanger helicopter, are going to support Air 1 in two roles. One helicopter will serve as a backup when Air 1 goes into a maintenance cycle while the second Kiowa will be used strictly for spare parts to keep the other choppers ready to fly.
“One of the helicopters we're receiving will be cannibalized for parts, because parts are very, very expensive and the other will be held in reserve [so we] still have a helicopter we can put in the air,” Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.
In addition to the two helicopters, King County donated one of its old spotlights for the backup helicopter, which arrived at Felts Field last Friday. Air 1 mounts a forward looking infrared camera as well as a 30 million candlepower spotlight, which aid in helping law enforcement officers spot suspects on the ground they might not otherwise find.
“We've actually had Air 1 save the lives of officers and sheriff's deputies on the ground because they were able to spot suspects hiding where the officer or deputy couldn't see them,” Knezovich said.
Air 1 has also proved to be an invaluable tool during pursuits; when Charlie Wallace shot two deputies two years ago, Air 1 kept pace with Wallace and scouted where he was going to help officers and deputies on the ground thwart his escape.
“So Air 1 was able to keep good control on where he was and give accurate data as far as where he was going so we could set up spike strips and things like that to stop him,” Knezovich said.
As for the costs of the flight program, thanks to volunteer pilots and contributions from both Coeur d'Alene and Kootenai County the Air 1 program is still a good deal for taxpayers.
“We have partnerships with private companies that donate time, mechanic services. we have partners throughout the region that pay into the fund to to keep the price down for the citizens of the entire region,” Knezovich said.
The air support unit hopes to have the backup helicopter up and ready to fly by the end of September.