County Spending $2.4M To Fix Helicopter After Catastrophic Engine Failure

(January 22)  The board of supervisors earlier this month elected to spend $1.5 million to purchase engines and a gear box to return a 43-year-old helicopter in the sheriff’s department’s air fleet to service.
On November 8, 2014, two sheriff’s department aviation division employees were operating the department’s Bell 212 helicopter near the division’s Rialto hangar when one of its engines suffered a catastrophic failure. Pilot Brian Miller was able to land the craft safely, but the engine was a total loss.
The department was faced with the prospect of accepting the loss of the helicopter, repairing it or acquiring one to replace it.
The Bell 212, a 1972 model, was purchased nearly 27 years ago, when its acquisition, at a cost of $872,000 was approved by the board of supervisors on March 14, 1988.
Until the November incident, the civilian twin-engine Bell 212 was one of two “medium duty” helicopters the sheriff’s aviation division operated, the other being a single-engine military surplus UH-1H Super Huey. Together, they were called upon to perform specialized law enforcement assignments, firefighting and search and rescue duties, including high altitude operations at popular outdoor recreation locations such as 11,503 fott high Mt. San Gorgonio peak, 11,209 foot high Jepson Peak and 10,680 foot high Shields peak in the San Bernardino Mountains and 10.068 foot high Mount Baldy Peak in the San Gabriel Mountains located at the border between San Bernardino and Los Angeles County in the Angeles National Forest.
In 2014, the helicopters flew approximately 500 hours for fire and search and rescue missions, which included response to 158 calls to the sheriff for service.
Despite the consideration that the Bell 212 is over 40 years old and the original mechanical components are no longer available, a decision was made to upgrade it with new, more powerful engines, as the estimated cost to purchase a new medium duty helicopter to meet the sheriff’s mission requirements is $10 million to $12 million.
The upgrade/repair of the Bell 212 will require replacement of the gearbox and transmission, as well as reinforcement of the tail boom section and other structural components of the helicopter to withstand the increased torque. While the Bell 212 helicopter is nonoperational, any required fire and/or search and rescue missions must be performed by the remaining UH-1H Super Huey, which has only about 90 flight hours available before its next Federal Aviation Administration inspection. If any deficiencies were to be found during the inspection, the sole remaining “medium duty” helicopter could be grounded for repairs, leaving the county with no hoist/rescue capable aircraft.
A second engine to match the replacement engine for the motor that failed has to be purchased because, according to sheriff’s department captain Shannon Dicus, “In order for the helicopter to operate safely, both engines must be compatible so failure of even a single engine requires replacement of both engines. The requested purchase of two new engines and a gear box from Pratt & Whitney is necessary in order to return this helicopter to service. It is imperative, therefore, that the sheriff return the Bell 212 to service as soon as possible in an effort to balance the workload, ensure the longevity of these aircraft and be responsive to public safety needs.”
The board of supervisors authorized the county’s purchasing agent to issue a purchase order to Pratt & Whitney Services Inc., in the amount of $1,530,958.32 for the purchase of two engines and one gearbox, including a core exchange of two engines and one gearbox from the sheriff’s department Bell 212 helicopter, which included a fleet enhancement agreement with Pratt & Whitney Services Inc.
The sheriff’s department solicited competitive bids for the purchase of the engines and gearbox. Pratt & Whitney had the lowest cost proposal, which included a year-end price discount and core exchange of the existing engines and gearbox. Pratt & Whitney’s discounted price was originally to expire on December 31, 2014, but the company agreed to extend the price until January 6, 2015, on which date the board of supervisors gave approval to the purchase.
Pratt & Whitney’s liability is limited to the cost of the engines and gearbox, which includes damages that may be related to Pratt & Whitney’s omission or negligence. The warranty provisions exclude coverage for Uniform Commercial Code implied warranties of merchantability and fitness for purpose.
The product warranty is for a period of five years or 1,000 flight hours. The warranty can be voided due to factors beyond Pratt & Whitney’s control, including the engine being used in a manner that Pratt & Whitney deems to have compromised the parts life or reliability.
The total cost to repair and upgrade the Bell 212 is estimated at $2.4 million and will, according to Dicus, “extend the life of the helicopter for 10 – 15 years.”
In addition to the Pratt & Whitney purchase, the helicopter will also require a new transmission, the cost of which is estimated at $400,000, and retrofitting and installation services, estimated at $500,000.
The sources of funding for the upgrade include $300,000 from the sheriff’s department budgetary savings, $1.5 million in additional Proposition 172 sales tax revenue as the result of a one-time adjustment from the state of California, with the remainder funded with AB 109 revenues in excess of amounts included in the 2014-15 budget.

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