Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims on Monday unveiled a new, $3.8 million helicopter that is faster, able to climb higher and is safer than one of two aging helicopters it replaces.
The MD 530F was largely paid for with federal asset forfeiture funds, Mims said.
“Drug traffickers paid for it and I’m OK with that,” she added.
The new helicopter will be dubbed EAGLE One. The department’s two existing helicopters are model MD 500Es that were built in 1990 and 1991, respectively, and have a combined total of 30,000 operational hours.
The new helicopter was built entirely with parts manufactured in the U.S. and assembled in America.
It has a white color scheme, contrasting with the green of the older machines, to increase visibility during mountain search-and-rescue operations.
The office already has $1.8 million set aside toward buying another new helicopter.
Pilot Ryan Walker said the extra power of the new machine means that it will be able to operate in Sierra rescue operations with more climbing ability, which translantes into more safety for the crew and anyone who needs a rescue.
Pilot Johnny Reyes added that modern instrumentation make flying the helicopter easier. As a point of comparison, pilots say it is as if a modern smart phone replaced an 18-year-old device. He cited new GPS and weather instrumentation as especially helpful.