Damage Grounds Raven

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One of Washoe County’s Raven helicopters has been grounded. The largest chopper in the Sheriff’s fleet was damaged during a training exercise Thursday. While they have other helicopters, this one has some special capabilities.

The damaged chopper is Raven 3, an ex-Air Force HH-1-H Huey. Its smaller counterparts, Bell Jet Rangers, can be seen routinely patrolling the skies over Reno, spotting trouble, aiding units on the ground in pursuits. The bigger, more powerful Huey, most often flies on different missions, special operations and search and rescue.

Alone among the Raven fleet the former Air Force workhorse is fitted with a hoist to lift a lost or injured hiker out of a remote area or deliver a search crew and dogs into a search area. In fact, it was training with canine units near the California border Thursday when it was damaged.

More recently it took on a new role. Fitted with a 300 gallon belly tank and snorkel it was to have been used this fire season for quick initial attack on wildfires. Firefighters say it could have made a big difference in fighting last year's Hawken fire in West Reno.

Today sits in a hanger at Stead as helpless as a bird with a broken wing. There's a large crack in its carbon fiber rotor, cause unknown. The craft was about 100 feet off the ground, when the crew felt a vibration and set it down.

The visible damage is significant. The rotors are rare and cost more than a hundred thousand dollars if you can find them. The county has a set of older metal blades with some useable hours left on them, but before they can be mounted the rest of the craft will have to be checked.

Best case scenario, Raven will be able to fly again soon with the metal rotors. Worst case, it will need an extensive overhaul of other components damaged in the incident. With fire season approaching it's an answer local agencies are waiting to hear.