Gwinnett Police to upgrade helicopters

Lawrenceville, Ga. – Gwinnett commissioners on Tuesday approved three contracts that, combined, offer an innovative way to replace both helicopters used by the Gwinnett County Police Department’s aviation unit for less than half the cost of buying new ones. Both units date to the mid-1980s. 

For just under $2.5 million, the County will keep both McDonnell Douglas MD500E airframes and replace most components with new equipment and more powerful engines, converting them to MD530F helicopters that will be considered new. McDonnell Douglas was awarded the contract to do the conversion work at a substantially reduced cost compared to purchasing brand new aircraft.

Both helicopters will also get new digital thermal infrared imaging systems and the 1984 machine will also get upgraded digital avionics with night vision and a new spotlight to make both helicopters identical. With more reliable, accurate and vibration-resistant instruments, the result should be less maintenance and downtime. FLIR Inc. was awarded the contract for the thermal infrared system at an estimated cost of $800,912 and Rotor Resources LLC will perform the avionics and spotlight replacement for approximately $283,640.

According to Police Chief A.A. “Butch” Ayers, the helicopters provide support to uniform patrol officers and are used primarily to track suspects and to search for missing or endangered persons, often in the dark. 

The three primary suppliers of law enforcement helicopters estimated the cost of new machines between $7 million and $8.4 million, with delivery several years in the future.

A few years ago, Gwinnett Fire and Emergency Services used a similar concept to find savings by mounting an existing aerial ladder on a new truck body.