Mississippi County helicopter woes

By Keith Boles - bio | email feedback

BLYTHEVILLE, AR (KAIT) - Helicopters are an integral part of many law enforcement agencies...

But, they are expensive to operate and maintain. That's why there are very few here in Arkansas.

Mississippi county has had a helicopter for 18 years... But, some major expenses could ground it.

The engine on a helicopter is allowed only so many hours before it must be overhauled even though it may be running perfectly.

Mississippi county's Sheriffs' Department Jet Ranger is down to a few hours and to over haul it will cost thousands.

Money the county just doesn't have to keep the whirlybird in the air.

"We have used Mississippi County's helicopter several times. Normally it's on a manhunt or some situation like that they've been extremely cooperative over the years. They have always bent over backwards to help us." Craighead County Sheriff Jack McCann told me. They call on Mississippi county 2 to 3 times a year for aviation assistance.

But soon those calls for help may go unanswered.

Mississippi County Aviation Unit Chief Pilot Bobby Stabbs sat out next to his bird on the ramp at the Blytheville Airport.

"After 15 years our engine is about to time out on us and we're gonna have to shut it down after about 50 more hours or we're gonna try to get some parts or donations what have you so we can get our engine overhauled."

The engine on the 206 is good for about 3600 hundred hours before it must be overhauled.

Mississippi County has had a helicopter for about 25 years starting off with a Hughes 2-seater and then acquiring this 1972 Bell 206 from the Army and getting it painted and refurbished to it's present look. The helicopter has been in service for 18 years with the county on a variety of missions including drug eradication to flying security routes for President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

Stabbs says he is constantly surprised that the people of Mississippi County are unaware of his aviation units existence. The unit has 3 other pilots besides Stabbs and 1 Tactical Flight Officer. All of the members are volunteers or deputies or regular deputies. No one gets paid to fly.

Besides an engine over haul, the chopper needs some other parts replaced as well.

Stabbs. "We have parts now to replace the transmission when we do this so it will be zero time transmission and zero time tail rotor gear box."

Those parts are in sealed cans in the hanger. But getting all the work done takes funding.

And if the chopper goes into the hanger permanently a lot of Region 8 will feel it.

Stabbs and his Tactical Flight Officer, Hunter Rounsaville told me they get calls all the time.

This helicopter isn't just dedicated to Mississippi County. It's used in over 15 counties in 3 states.

Stabbs, "Up in Dunklin and Pemiscot County in Missouri, Over into Tennessee in Tipton County, looking for drugs, looking for bodies."

It's also been called on for support in several Arkansas counties including Craighead. Sheriff Jack McCann says his department has looked into helicopters but the fiscal responsibility is just to much so they have called upon Mississippi county several times, mainly for man hunts in remote areas.

McCann, "It's such a big area we couldn't cover it on foot or horseback. They have come over and flown it and normally we'll find who we're looking for."

Including a fugitive hunt here in Craighead county last October that resulted in one criminal dying in a shootout with law enforcement.

Stabbs says they are looking at any way they can to raise the money. They have lots of extra parts for trade or sale. He just wants to be able to keep the bird in the air for the next 20 years.

"It would be really nice if someone would help us out to get a new engine or get an engine and help us maintain it. Because we are here for the people of United States of America, and the citizens of Mississippi County, Arkansas and the surrounding area."

In our area, Baxter county also has a helicopter that is called on quite frequently.

Mississippi county doesn't charge other counties when they are called out to help them, although they will take a full tank or two of Jet - A when available.

And, surprisingly enough, when they have been used by the Federal Government, they were given no reimbursement at all for fuel or aircraft use.

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