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Huntington Beach police unveil first of 3 new police helicopters

Huntington Beach Police show off their new helicopter in Huntington Beach, CA, on Wednesday, February 8, 2023. (Photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG/TNS)

Two police officers lifted the new black and gray helicopter off the ground and, while hovering just feet above, maneuvered forward and turned left toward a crowd of onlookers.

They then moved away from the crowd before their ascent into a blue sky, showcasing the enhanced maneuverability of the Huntington Beach Police Department’s newest addition at the department’s helipad and hangar Wednesday, Feb. 8.

Huntington Beach police and city officials unveiled the first of three new MD530F helicopters, which will replace a fleet that had been in service about 25 years, officials said.

The new airships sport a new look, replacing navy blue and white with black and gray, a design borne from the Air Support Bureau mechanics and eagerly agreed upon by the rest of the team.

Rather than a police badge, which was hand-painted onto the old helicopters, the new models have the Huntington Beach city logo along with “Police” written across the tail.

But while pilots and mechanics alike were thrilled with the look, the technological advancements will be key for the department.

“They’re fast and nimble in the air,” said Officer Jon Deliema, a two-year pilot with the Air Support Bureau. “The power in this thing is incredible, it’s got 200 more horsepower.”

Sgt. Jerry Goodspeed said the increase, which boosts the copters’ capacity to 650 horsepower, is “like going from a V6 to a V8.”

The new models were built with a tail rotor, which allows for a bigger engine and makes for more responsiveness to a pilot’s maneuvers, Deliema said. Inside, a glass cockpit includes digital gauge displays and includes a map overlay.

Outside, a spotlight and camera, with the ability to be programmed to a specific address or location, will assist officers.

“It’s got a little more power and the ability to carry more weight,” Goodspeed said. “It’ll be cheaper to run to because parts and services will be more available.”

The other two helicopters are expected to be in Huntington Beach by the end of March, Goodspeed said.

The Air Support Bureau was started in 1968 and contracts with Costa Mesa, Newport Beach and Irvine to provide aerial support for those cities. In the unit’s 54 years, they’ve flown MD helicopters for about 150,000 hours of flight time, officials said.

The unit’s operations include patrol ground operations, surveillance, aerial photo and intelligence gathering, observation support for police, fire and marine safety and SWAT operations, officials said.

Funding for the new helicopters was approved in June 2021. The cost for the three helicopters was $10 million, but the city received a $3 million discount by selling the two older helicopters to MD Australia, officials have said.

One of those helicopters has already been sold and was flying in Australia, Goodspeed said.

But the unveiling also comes almost a year after one of the older helicopters crashed into the water in Newport Beach, killing Officer Nicholas Vella. It also comes just four days after the city dedicated a key stretch of Beach Boulevard to the fallen officer, who was a 14-year veteran of the city’s police force.

The National Transportation Safety Board, in a preliminary report, said the pilot had radioed that there was a mechanical issue before the Feb. 19, 2022 crash. The NTSB was still investigating the crash as of Wednesday.

“It helps us knowing that our unit is still together and flying,” Goodspeed said. “Knowing (Vella) would want to be up there with us, it helps us to move forward.”

Huntington Beach Police Chaplain Roger Winn began the unveiling by saying a prayer partly in remembrance of Vella, followed by a moment of silence.

Once the three helicopters are all available, the Air Support Bureau will put them in rotation with one for day shift, one for night shift and one in maintenance, which is required after every 100 hours of flight time, equating to about three or four weeks, Goodspeed said.


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