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NEW PLANE MAKES OFFICIALS GRIN

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This particular twin-engine aircraft had been used previously to transport illegal drugs. Now, Utah County deputy sheriffs may one day use it to track other drug traffickers.

During a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Provo Municipal Airport, sheriff's officials, as well as officials from Utah Valley State College's department of aviation science, showed off the relatively new Cessna 421 Golden Eagle. Drug Enforcement Agency agents seized the aircraft in Utah and sold it to the sheriff's department and UVSC as surplus property."Crime still doesn't pay, except when it benefits both Utah Valley State College and the Utah County Sheriff's Department," joked Ron Smart, UVSC's director of aviation science.

The single-wing plane normally would have cost as much as a quarter-million dollars. But because it was surplus government property the college and sheriff's department are splitting the greatly reduced $5,000 purchase price.

"You can imagine what would have happened if either of us tried to buy the original merchandise, especially by ourselves. It would have been virtually impossible," said Smart, adding that college leaders have been looking at ways to expand their aviation program.

The plane has short take-off and landing capabilities and, as equipped with the two engines, can fly over long distances.

"As you can imagine, drug traffickers want the best. And that's what we now have here," Smart said.

Both the sheriff's department and UVSC will have use of the craft. UVSC's aviation program will use it for pilot training courses, while deputy sheriffs will employ it for drug enforcement and for prisoner transportation, since its flight speed actually makes it too speedy for searches or for use in the radio telemetry tracking program, in which investigators track stolen items containing small radio transmitters.

"It's well-suited for what we want to use it for. It's going to be a great help to the county," said Sheriff Dave Bateman, who noted that the new craft will help save money on transportation - since deputies must sometimes transport and accompany criminals out of state.

The craft will be housed at the college's hangar in the Provo Municipal Airport, which gives the county a more central location for some of its aircraft. A smaller plane used for searches and in the tracking program is alternately housed at the small airports in Spanish Fork and Cedar Valley.