When an emergency call came in to the aerial unit of the California Highway Patrol earlier this week, the helicopter crew was in the air in less than four minutes.
The response time would never have happened at the CHP's previous headquarters at the Southern California Logistics Airport. To leave from there, the flight crew had to drive a mile from the office and past security gates before even reaching the hangar, according to according to CHP Aerial Supervisor Bruce Bonnett.
"It would take us 10 to 12 minutes or more to get off the ground," he said.
With a new aviation center at the Apple Valley Airport, staff couldn't be happier at the CHP Inland Division and the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.
"This facility is paramount for this division," Bonnett said. "We have 44,000 square miles to cover and have to support other counties."
The new 24,000-square-foot center has a hangar with six bays -- four for the CHP to house two helicopters and two planes and two for the sheriff's department to hold a helicopter and another aircraft.
Another 8,000 square feet of office space is also available, said Bill Ingraham, director of airports for San Bernardino County.
"This will be a satellite office for the sheriff's department," said Capt. Toby Tyler of the sheriff's aviation unit. "We will have a pilot and flight officer here on a rotating schedule."
Sheriff Gary Penrod said the new aviation center was a "big benefit for us and all the citizens."
"We are talking about putting another shift up here, so we should have something available all day," he said.
Bonnet said the CHP offices will have 16 fulltime pilots and flight officers and two sergeants.
The center has been in the planning stages since the late 1990s.
"The project died for a while," Ingraham said, because the project called for two separate buildings for CHP and the county.
When the cost became too high, Ingraham said, the aviation center had to be redesigned. After two years of construction, the center finally opened its doors this month.
The county celebrated the long-awaited opening with a dedication ceremony on Friday. Several local and county officials, including San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Postmus, attended the event.
"This is an exciting time for us," Penrod said. "We are really sending the message that we can get out to the mountains or wherever we need to go when people need us."
Copyright (c) 2006, Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
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