The sheriff has a new ‘Hawk One’ to patrol the skies over Fayette County

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The Fayette County Sheriff’s Office has replaced its aging helicopter with a much-newer model.

The AS350 B2 chopper from American Eurocopter becomes the new “Hawk 1” replacing the older Vietnam-era Bell OH-58 unit, purchased in 2002.

The old Hawk 1 was experiencing much more downtime due to maintenance, and parts were becoming hard to come by, said Fayette County Sheriff Wayne Hannah.

“The maintenance issues were getting to where it was down more than it was up,” Hannah said.

The new helicopter, a 2006 model, was purchased for $1.7 million using confiscated drug funds, Hannah said. Equipment from the old unit, such as the radio system and the night vision cameras, were moved from the old unit to the new one, he said.

The new Hawk 1 has already been in service, assisting last week with the search for a gunman in Clayton County who had shot and killed a Clayton sheriff’s deputy.

For those interested in getting a look at it, the new Hawk 1 will be on display Tuesday from 6-8 p.m. at the National Night Out event in the parking lot of the Target store at the Fayette Pavilion.

The new unit, unlike the old OH-58, can handle a full load of passengers.

The older helicopter is being prepared for the auction block, Hannah said. Beyond just the downtime, the unit was so old that under FAA regulations, new pilots couldn’t log training hours while flying it, Hannah added.

The helicopter has paid dividends in searching for criminals, in conjunction with the department’s K-9 unit, Hannah noted. Hawk 1 is available to assist other nearby agencies as well, he added.

Hannah noted that the Federal Aviation Administration’s Atlanta Tower has been a big help to the department, as part of its space includes a northern swath of Fayette County. The FAA has been helpful in providing almost immediate clearance to enter the airspace when needed, Hannah added.