Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

For sale: Like new, lightly used 50-year-old Sheriff’s Office helicopter

A Sheriff's Office helicopter circles repeatedly as protesters and police clash in downtown Spokane during riots after the George Floyd protest on May 31, 2020.   (Libby Kamrowski/Spokesman-Review)

You could be the proud owner of a former Spokane County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, if you have a spare $1 million lying around.

Spokane County Commissioners listed one of the Sheriff’s Office’s helicopters for auction last week and hope to use the proceeds for the purchase of a state-of-the-art model, a Bell 505.

While the commissioners have not approved the purchase of a new helicopter, they’ve indicated they will in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to buy it,” Commissioner Josh Kerns said during a briefing meeting last week.

The auction is the county’s first step toward modernizing the Regional Air Support Unit’s aging fleet. The county has received a $500,000 federal grant to support its efforts, but will need to allocate additional funding for the purchase recently estimated to be around $3.2 million, sales tax not included.

The Sheriff’s Office and Spokane Valley Police Department – which is part of the Sheriff’s Office – have used helicopters for nearly 20 years.

Today, the county and Valley have four choppers built around 1970: two formerly used by the U.S. military and two formerly used by the U.S. Department of State.

While all four helicopters work well and have received maintenance and upgrades over the years, safety concerns increase as they age, Spokane Valley Police Chief David Ellis told county commissioners in a September meeting.

The Bell UH-1H Super Huey put up for auction last week was appraised by a third-party to have a market value of $1.1 million, or an auction value of $875,000.

Ellis told commissioners last month they hope to secure a minimum of $900,000 through the nationwide auction on

The air support team used the helicopter primarily for rescues and missing persons cases, putting nearly 7,000 hours of flight time in to find lost kids, adults with dementia or hikers who wandered off a marked trail.

The engine in the 1974 chopper was recently rebuilt, and the gearbox and blades have been replaced. The new parts have only seen roughly nine hours of flight time, according to the listing. Ellis said the auction will be live until April 17.

If the county commissioners approve the purchase of a new chopper, it probably wouldn’t arrive in Spokane County until 2025. It takes about 18 months to build one, Ellis said.

The Air Support Unit would then put another one into reserve and potentially cannibalize it for parts. In effect, the Sheriff’s Office and Spokane Valley Police Department would downsize to three helicopters and primarily use two – one for law enforcement and one for search and rescue missions.

Commissioner Amber Waldref raised concerns about where the remaining funding would be secured for the new Bell 505 during last week’s meeting, positing that the cities of Spokane and Spokane Valley could contribute as the other two jurisdictions that use the air unit’s services.

“I understand that we are going to move forward at some point,” Waldref said. “I would really like to know how we’re going to pay for it.”

County CEO Scott Simmons said a model in which each city contributes about $100,000 for annual operating costs is being considered. It cost more than $436,000 to operate the Air Support Unit in 2023, according to a November report to the commissioners.

Reserve funds could also be allocated toward the project.

The Valley pays around $65,000 a year, while Spokane already contributes $100,000. The city does so through annual payments of $25,000 and by placing three Tactical Flight Officers from the Spokane Police Department on the team, each valued at around $25,000.

Waldref said she would like to hear about all potential funding options, since the commissioners have several budget requests to consider over the next few years.

Board of Commissioners Chair Mary Kuney said she’d like to move forward with the acquisition soon.

“I think it’s a necessary piece of equipment that we’ve been talking about for a long time,” Kuney said.