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Big changes may be afoot for San Diego Sheriff Bill Gore's air support wing, judging by a request for proposals sent out by the county November 17.

Officially known as the Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies unit, the operation traces its roots back to 1971, when then-Sheriff John Duffy, a colorful and controversial figure friendly with Las Vegas developer Irwin Molasky and his partners in the http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/2011/jun/29/cover-fbi/"> La Costa resort, a favorite mob destination, bought three Bell 47 helicopters.

The program grew rapidly, and when neighbors complained about the noise, Duffy proclaimed, "The helicopters you hear can save your life or your property...we'd like to think of that noise as the sound of security."

But elaborate air operations and intensive pilot training have become increasingly expensive and taxpayer support is growing scarcer, as the city of San Diego acknowledged in July when was it forced to clip the wings of its own police helicopter unit due to the loss of federal and state funding.

According to a draft agreement for "aviation consultant services" included with the county's request for proposals, the sheriff is seeking an expert to, among other things, "compare costs and/or potential savings of utilizing a fixed wing aircraft...for initial flight training of pilots."

The consultant then would "Establish the pros and cons of conducting primary flight training in a fixed wing aircraft vs. the more complex rotocraft airframes, with later transition to the helicopter for more advanced training."

Other tasks include determining "suitable airframe replacement for future (5-7 years) replacement of Bell 205 airframe, given its current mission requirements and possible future mission requirements to include night time operations," as well as analysis of "the Bell 407 capabilities and limitations (limited cockpit and rear door access configuration) with respect to ASTREA'S mission requirements."

According to the sheriff's website, the department currently operates one Bell 407. "This helicopter can seat up to seven persons and fly for close to 3 hours without landing for fuel.  It is equipped with a data-link antenna and associated hardware which will make it possible to pass a live video feed to ground personnel."

The department also owns two Bell 205s, the site says.

Pictured: Bell 407

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Visduh Nov. 26, 2011 @ 9:45 a.m.

Again, it was "free money" from above (the state and federal governments) that was providing this support. Now, if it is to continue, the local taxpayers will have to fund it, or at least more of it. One good way to save money is to fly those birds less. The hourly operating costs quoted for helicopters are always near-astronomical.

Do they really need to put a chopper in the air to chase shoplifters, or hover over a freeway accident scene? And don't deny that the craft are misused. Anyone paying attention to how they are used knows that if nothing important is happening, the bird will be used for something unimportant. Cut the fleet, and use those that remain for situations when a chopper is going to make a real difference. Otherwise keep them on the ground at the ready.


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