What is 10,834 feet high and is a magnet for hikers? If you said Mount San Jacinto, you are correct. This mountain is the sixth tallest in the lower 48 states .
John Muir, our great American naturalist said of these mountains, “The view from San Jacinto is the most sublime to be found anywhere on earth.” Muir wasn’t around to ride up the mountain on our amazing tramway. He had to hike it. Lots of today’s hikers try that, too.
The Cactus to Clouds trail runs from the desert floor to the peak. Not a drop of water until you hit 8,500 feet. This trail is among the most difficult hikers will encounter. I know. I hiked it with the late U.S. Navy combat fighter pilot, Captain John G. Duncan.
So here’s the good news. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors have funded a new helicopter for the Sheriff’s Department. Some media outlets made questioned the need and cost. In the end, Sheriff Chad Bianco’s request for a helicopter was approved by the Board of Supervisors two times.
Anytime you spend millions for a piece of equipment, taxpayers want to know what they are getting and if you really need it.
While serving with the 89th Military Airlift Wing, home of Air Force One and Special Air Missions, I had occasional flights on the venerable Huey helicopter with the First Helicopter Squadron. It’s mission? Transport our key government officials to classified locations for continuity of government. The twin engine Huey was a workhorse in Vietnam, our desert wars, and is still in service today. The Huey had a single- and twin-engine version. Twin-engine helicopters give you more payload, speed, and lift.
Our late Sheriff Larry Smith was the first Sheriff to seek a new helicopter to serve our county. Prior to that time, we had military surplus helicopters. The news copter would cost $3.5 million in 1999. The B-3 Eurocopter has been a great help to the deputies in the field and this single-engine ship has done a great job. Like the single-engine Huey, the B-3 has limits.
Unfortunately, it is not capable of rescue operations in and around the higher mountain peaks of our vast county. When we needed rescues at higher altitudes we had to ask other counties to make the flight with their helicopters. To scramble a crew takes time. When lives are on the line minutes make a difference.
Sheriff Bianco’s aviation unit will have a new Airbus H 145. It’s twin engines can handle just about any mission the department needs. In a response to an Active Shooter event it may carry SWAT team members for a rapid response force.
Our skies will be patrolled by a multi-role chopper that can transport medical patients, and rescue hikers with a powerful external hoist. Using external roping, the new copter can carry two personnel externally. Army types may liken that capability to Air Assault missions.
Important in higher altitude rescue and recovery operations is the ability to hover. This twin engine Airbus gives our pilot and crew what they need to rapidly deploy and take the mission head on.
The crew can reconfigure this Airbus in just minutes. It is easy to maintain, has a five-blade rotor that folds up for sit down and close quarters parking and its shrouded tail rotor is cutting edge.
Like I said, this multi-role H145 Airbus wasn’t cheap. Its purchase comes at a time when money is tight. Sheriff Bianco and his team needed the capability and the Board of Supervisors stepped up. These funds were actually budget savings achieved by the Sheriff and his team.
Hikers climbing our trails in the county still need to be vigilant, dress accordingly, carry the proper supplies and maybe toss in a satellite phone. If you need a rescue from a mountain trail the Sheriff’s team will be ready. This chopper may also be seen fighting fire and slinging water too. Space limits prevent outlining everything this Airbus can do but whatever the mission it will get it done and the public will be better served because it is reporting for duty.
- Palm Springs Aerial Tram: Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
- H145 helicopter: Airbus
- H145 Cordillera Chile © Rodrigo Ocharán: Airbus