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Local News

Santa Barbara County Unveils the New ‘Queen’ of Its Helicopter Fleet

After nearly 10 years of raising private funds for the purchase, officials take flight with the state-of-the-art Huey chopper

The new “queen” of the Santa Barbara County Fire and Sheriff’s Department helicopter fleet was given a warm reception Monday afternoon just before showing onlookers what she could really do.

Crews of the state-of-the-art Copter No. 3 performed a water drop, a hoist of emergency personnel and flew low over the heads of local elected officials, members of law enforcement and attendees of its commissioning ceremony at a Santa Ynez Airport hangar.

Those given the privilege of showing off the restored Huey were also the two gentlemen responsible for spearheading the private fundraising efforts that made its purchase possible. No taxpayer dollars were used.

Sgt. Gregg Weitzman and Senior Deputy Jon Simon were toasted Monday as the two airmen who in 2001 helped start the nonprofit Project Rescue Flight, which raised $2.7 million toward purchasing the larger, more versatile aircraft.

Before highlighting their efforts and those of others, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown noted that not every new piece of equipment gets the same welcome.

“This is something special because this is something special,” Brown said. “It’s a true success story … of a private-public partnership. We owe a lot of credit to a lot of people.”

Undersheriff Jim Peterson welcomed a large crowd to the airport hangar, introducing members of the county Board of Supervisors, local city councils and all types of law enforcement.

“This really is a momentous day for us,” Peterson said.

Senior Deputy Jon Simon, left, and Sgt. Gregg Weitzman receive certificates and plagues on Monday in recognition of their efforts to raise $2.7 million in private funds for the Sheriff's Department's new helicopter. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)
Senior Deputy Jon Simon, left, and Sgt. Gregg Weitzman receive certificates and plagues on Monday in recognition of their efforts to raise $2.7 million in private funds for the Sheriff’s Department’s new helicopter. (Gina Potthoff / Noozhawk photo)

Brown walked attendees through the history of the Huey aircraft, which was built in 1965 and was used in the U.S. Army to train young pilots headed to the Vietnam War. The copter was retired and then used by a sheriff’s department in Colorado, which is where Weitzman and Simon found it.

Although the original plan had been to purchase a new copter, Brown said, the airmen decided to forge ahead with the cheaper option of buying and then restoring a plane instead.

This copter, which at one point transported President George H.W. Bush and Mother Teresa, began its five-year structure upgrade in 2007.

“The story of what can happen when you dream a little,” Brown said. “All this took considerable time. (But) a masterpiece is a masterpiece.”

Throughout the ceremony, the copter was referred to as “queen,” “guardian angel” and “super Huey.”

Brown noted how versatile the copter is, with capabilities of aerial firefighting, hoist rescues and other law enforcement, fire and emergency medical functions.

Copter No. 3 brings the county sheriff and fire fleet total to six, with four medium-lift copters and two smaller copters. Brown said it’s likely that one or more older copters would be phased out because of the new addition.

Just before the copter’s christening and high-flying demonstrations, Brown extended appreciation to the many private partners who have helped bring the safety asset into a county department hard-hit with budget reductions.

“It is a state-of-the-art air ambulance,” he said. “It will serve the citizens of Santa Barbara County very well.”

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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