Henry County acquires helicopter, introduces new aviation unit

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

The Henry County Sheriff’s Office has a new toy: a Bell OH-58 Kiowa helicopter.

Sheriff Reginald Scandrett introduced the aircraft and its pilots Wednesday afternoon at a news conference held with leaders from local government and other law enforcement agencies. The decades-old helicopter, which was transferred from the Clayton County Police Department for $75,000, was previously deployed by the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War.

“Will it fly?” Scandrett asked with a wry smile, eliciting chuckles from the crowd of law enforcement officials. “Absolutely, it will certainly do that. This is going to help us collectively police better amid the growth of Henry County.”

Scandrett emphasized the benefits of his agency gaining flight capabilities and the cost efficiency of transferring the used aircraft.

“When I moved here 30 years ago, there were approximately 41,000 people in the county,” Scandrett said. “Well, that has progressed to over 240,000. With people comes progressive crime, unfortunately.”

Scandrett added that Kiowa helicopters typically cost between $3.5 million and $5 million.

According to Clayton police Chief Kevin Roberts, his department acquired the helicopter in 1996 through a federal program to repurpose military equipment for police use. The aircraft has logged more than 6,000 hours of flight time since its deployment to Vietnam in the early 1970s, Roberts said. He described the Kiowa as a dependable platform and said the Clayton police aviation unit assisted the Henry sheriff’s office in setting up their own flight program.

Credit: Henri Hollis

Credit: Henri Hollis

Henry’s newly acquired helicopter will be piloted by Chief Pilot Freddy Briggs, a veteran Army pilot who flew Blackhawks on 10 deployments to Iraq, and Sgt. Cameron Connor, a deputy in the department who recently received his license to fly rotary wing aircraft. According to Chief Deputy Michael Yarborough, Connor was instrumental in creating the new aviation unit.

Scandrett said his agency’s aviation unit will support multiple municipalities within Henry and coordinate with other law enforcement agencies in the region. Other attendees included both the mayor and police chief for Stockbridge, the police chief for Hampton, the sheriff of Rockdale County, and representatives of the Henry Board of Commissioners and solicitor general.

Scandrett and Roberts said the deal to transfer the helicopter had been in the works for about a year. The Clayton police department acquired a newer helicopter, so the air capabilities have only expanded among the counties in southern metro Atlanta, Roberts said.

Roberts had planned to arrive at Wednesday’s news conference in Clayton’s new helicopter, but poor visibility due to misty conditions interfered with those plans.

Henry’s new aviation unit will support a variety of operations, Scandrett said, including high-speed pursuits, missing person cases and incidents of what the sheriff called “the seven deadly sins.”

Wednesday’s event, which took place on a field at the Red Hawk Baseball Complex near the sheriff’s office, concluded with Briggs and Connor firing up the old Kiowa and lifting into the overcast sky.

The helicopter, in its gleaming new black, gray and yellow HCSO livery, does still fly.