Authorities across the state have a new, $5.5 million tool at their disposal for search and rescue, anti-drug and other operations: the 's UH-72 Lakota helicopter, showcased Thursday at Mather Airfield.
"It's almost like going from the stone age to the space age," California National Guard pilot and Stockton Police officer Daniel Lowry said.
The Guard's eight UH-72 helicopters, manufactured by Eurocopter, will be stationed in Stockton and available for operations around the state. They could be used for medical evacuation, search and rescue, looking for marijuana growers or other operations. Officials touted features like autopilot, infrared cameras that can stream video to a location 30 miles away, a powerful searchlight and other benefits.
"At 6,000 feet [above the ground] we can supposedly read a license plate," California National Guard Capt. John Allen said.
Members of the media, law enforcement officers and representatives from elected officials were taken on a short demonstration flight over Rosemont and the surrounding area.
Steve Hill, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Coordinator, said the new helicopter could prove useful in operations like last weekend's , a search that involved both the sheriff's department and California National Guard.
"We're going to be working with these boys, and I wanted to see what their new stuff was," Hill said.
Napa County Sheriff's Department Capt. Tracey Stuart said she and several others from her department attended the event "to learn more about their capability" and where the California National Guard is allowed to help.
"I could see [using their assistance] in a fire, a disaster or a search and rescue," Stuart said.
Representatives from CalFire, the Yolo County Sheriff's Department and other agencies also attended the event. The presentation also featured the California National Guard's final flight of the OH-58 Kiowa, a Vietnam-era helicopter that will be replaced by the UH-72 Lakota. The OH-58 was piloted by Rick Lynn, the California National Guard's only pilot currently on active duty who flew in Vietnam.