Politics & Government

New Houston County hangar in response to round-the-clock GSP choppers

WARNER ROBINS -- The Georgia State Patrol helicopter unit in Perry is expanding and will be manned around the clock, while the number of personnel will quadruple.

The Houston County Commission on Tuesday approved a bid to design two new hangars for the Perry-Houston County Airport. One will house 14 private planes while the other will house Georgia State Patrol choppers.

Commissioner Larry Thomson, who presented the item at the meeting, said the GSP hangar will include living quarters to allow aviators to be there 24 hours a day. The crews currently are there for limited hours and do not have sleeping quarters.

“It’s a big plus for all of Middle Georgia,” Thomson said.

He said the choppers have a variety of uses, including finding escapees and missing people as well as fighting fires.

Last year, Thomson said, the choppers were instrumental in putting out a fire at the Perdue Farms chicken processing plant. The building is so large that it was difficult to pinpoint where the fire was coming from, he said, but a GSP helicopter spotted it from above.

He also said the unit currently has two choppers, and with the new hangar it may get a third one. It will also serve as a staging point for flyovers to spot marijuana, which involves several choppers.

The helicopters will purchase fuel from the airport, and that is the primary source of revenue to pay for its operations, Thomson said.

The new hangar for the private planes also is important because there has been a long waiting list for hangar space. Rental fees from hangars also help pay for airport operations.

Sgt. Hamilton Halford, hangar commander of the Perry GSP aviation unit, said the unit is currently on call around the clock, but by having pilots at the hangar at all times it will be able to have much faster response times. The unit currently has two pilots and one tactical flight officer who operates the aircraft’s electronics, such as infrared cameras. It covers a 27-county area, but it may go anywhere in the state if needed.

Halford said the unit performs 54 different types of missions, but its most common reason to fly is searching for missing people.

When the new hangar is built and the unit goes 24/7, Halford said it probably will have five pilots, five technicians and two mechanics. Currently the unit does not have any mechanics and sends the choppers to Kennesaw for maintenance. By having its own mechanics, it will reduce downtime, he said.

Halford said there are seven GSP helicopter units in the state, and currently none is manned around the clock. Perry could become the first.

Commission Chairman Tommy Stalnaker said he expects a groundbreaking on the hangar within a few weeks. The board approved JMA Architecture of Perry to design the two hangars for a total of $66,453.

To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.