RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Search and rescue operations are about to get easier with the addition of a new high-tech helicopter to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol fleet.
The new helicopter was officially unveiled Thursday morning.
The cost was authorized by the General Assembly a few years ago, but the pandemic and supply chain shortages added to the delivery time.
The Bell 429 chopper has lots of bells and whistles that allow it to fly faster and carry away victims who may need to be rescued from life-threatening situations.
“We can carry more people, fly through worse weather—get on location quickly and hoist people out of danger,” said Col. Freddy Johnson, who is the Commander of NCSHP.
The $10 million helicopter is the fourth to be added to the State Highway Patrol fleet and it’ll be the only one with hoisting capacity.
In about a month, a $5 million helicopter will be added to the fleet. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of Bell 429, which is why it’s not as expensive. It will be based in Salisbury along with another chopper.
The new units are not replacing any helicopters, they are additions.
The goal is to keep the air fleet as new as possible. Right now, the oldest chopper in the fleet is 6 years old.
Back in 2018 and again in 2020, the Highway Patrol lost helicopters after crashes.
Both those helicopters were more than 48 years old and had almost reached the end of their usable flying lives.
Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia asked the head of the agency’s aviation unit how it recovers from something like an accident involving one of its helicopters.
“We immediately look at the causes of the accident,” said Sgt. Matt Tribula. “We evaluate and systematically correct the small problems we find. Those actions were unfortunate.”
“Luckily, no one lost their lives,” he said.
The Highway Patrol upgraded its safety training for its aviators—currently, it takes 5 years to become a Highway Patrol helicopter pilot.
“It’s a combination of academics and going out and flying the aircraft and simulating the emergencies in flight training devices,” said Tribula.
With more choppers in the fleet—they aren’t being run constantly, spreading out the routine maintenance costs.
Spreading out costs means not as many tax dollars have to be spent all at once on costly big-ticket repairs.
The fifth helicopter that will be delivered in about a month and based in Salisbury won’t be as sophisticated as the new one put into service Thursday, but because it will be newer, it won’t wear out as quickly.