Monday, August 07, 2017

Toledo Police Department helicopter sale details still up in air

Specific details of a recent Toledo Police Department helicopter sale are still up in the air.

The chopper, which remains grounded at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center, sold Friday during the closing of a auction for $150,000.

The two-week auction ended Friday afternoon and brought in 24 bids, starting at $20,000.

The helicopter was sold to LHP Investments out of Montana, according to Toledo Police Capt. Joe Heffernan. The chopper’s final destination remained unknown as of Monday. Arrangements for the helicopter’s delivery have not been made.

A message was left and not returned Monday for Richard Jackson, division of purchases and supplies commissioner for the city of Toledo, regarding the sale.

With a 12 percent buyer’s premium, the total purchase price for the helicopter came to $168,750, according to the auction site.

Toledo bought the Robinson R-44 in 2001 for the department’s aviation unit, which organized that year. The chopper cost about $504,000. It has been used for the past 16 years for surveillance, search and rescue, night patrols, overseeing chases, and in other emergency situations.

The aircraft has a cruising speed of 130 mph, a range of about 350 miles, and three seats. Police equipment, such as a search light and infrared camera, fill the space where a fourth seat could be located.

The collective time on the helicopter is nearly 3,780 hours. It’s inspected annually in November, according to the sale post.

A combination of the cost of a major overhaul, retiring staff, and new technology prompted the sale.

City officials have said the aircraft may not be worth the $300,000 cost of a mandatory factory overhaul required every 2,200 flight hours or every 12 years, whichever comes first. In September, 2005, when it was four years old, the helicopter received such an overhaul. The cost of $190,000 at that time was paid with a federal grant, police officials said.

When the helicopter was purchased, there were four pilots and the chopper was flown once or twice a shift, Captain Heffernan said. The department’s sole remaining certified pilot is expected to retire in about a year.

“Buying another helicopter, we would have all of those expenses and the training of pilots,” Captain Heffernan said. “All of those factors together really pointed us to the direction of a drone.”

A drone can be controlled by a pilot using a tablet, climb to several hundred feet, fly in harsh weather, and cover a wide area.

While helicopters can be proven beneficial during patrol operations and lengthy investigations, a drone can be deployed quickly and the operator’s certification process is easier, the captain said.

The police department has been using the drone for about six months. The drone has been used in missing-person cases and at the scene of three large fires.

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