The Oklahoma Army National Guard introduced a major upgrade on Sunday. Four new helicopters were unveiled to keep Oklahomans safer during emergencies and natural disasters.
The helicopters our National Guard members have been using were 30 years old, outdated and small. In many cases the old aircraft cost taxpayers more than these new models.
The UH-72 Latoka is a top of the line, search and rescue machine. The helicopters are equipped with infrared, video cameras, search lights and most importantly more space.
"The last aircraft could only take up to two passengers, and this one we can take as many as eight in the back," said Army National Guard Chief Chase Rutledge.
On Sunday, pilots, their families and other members of the Guard were invited to get inside the Latoka and learn the new safety features.
"I'm like a kid in a candy story," said Major General Myles Deering, the Adjuntant General for the State of Oklahoma. "With these new helicopters it's going to provide us an enhanced capability to respond to disasters here in the State of Oklahoma and our local communities."
The Army National Guard says its response to things like tornadoes and grass fires will be significantly improved. There will also be faster communication options, which means getting to the wounded quicker.
"With the radios we can talk to any agency on the ground; police department, fire department, any of the Oklahoma Emergency Management," said Rutledge.
The helicopters can take video and transmit it live to the ground, so crews are able to direct people in real time.
The new aircraft are not only keeping Oklahomans safer, they're also saving taxpayers money.
"Our UH-60 helicopter probably averages between $4,000-$6,000 per hour. To fly this [new] helicopter will cost the taxpayers between $1,200-$1,400 an hour," said Maj. General Deerling.
Not only will the four Lakota helicopters be used for fires and search and rescue, but also for homeland security and counter drug missions.