Eleven years ago, Trooper One was introduced with much fanfare in Connecticut as the newest and most cutting-edge equipment in the toolbox for State Police.
Rarely would a fair or school event go by where the $2 million helicopter was not present.
It has been used in a number of high-profile incidents from dousing flames in a Western Connecticut forest fire to using its night vision to help South Windsor Police nab a suspect stealing clothing from trucking companies.
But over the past few years, Trooper One has seen a dramatic decrease in its use.
In 2002, Trooper One's first full year of operation, pilots logged 490 missions totaling 953 flight hours.
Compare that to last year when the aircraft logged 42 missions and 42 flight hours.
"Post Sept. 11 we were in the air all the time," said Police Lt. Paul Vance.
Vance told the I-Team the decline in Trooper One use mostly has to do with a tight state budget.
Annual maintenance on the aircraft has been as much as $300,000 and just fueling the chopper alone is about $250 per hour.
State police say while Trooper One has more sophisticated equipment, their three fixed-wing planes are more economical to fly.
The I-Team has learned other issues may have contributed to the reduced reliance upon Trooper One.
For starters, there have been several labor problems with people who have flown, or have tried to fly the state aircraft.
Former State Trooper Lou Ward won a significant settlement after suing the state for racial discrimination, claiming leaders of the State Police Aviation Unit kept him from flying the plane even though he was qualified.
"It's in essence a club and there's very little control over that unit," he said.
A lengthy internal investigation into the Aviation Unit found most of the allegations against the unit unfounded.
"It's important to note that if there is a life-threatening situation that aircraft is in the air regardless," Vance said. "It's a very expensive piece of equipment but if it locates one child or saves one life, it's worth its weight in gold."
Vance said Trooper One was used in the recent New Britain Hospital shooting.
But Bolton's First Selectman Bob Morra told the I-Team that state police told him Trooper One wasn't available last year when a woman was missing and he asked state police to assist in her search.
Morra says the woman was found dead in Bolton a few days later, her death ruled a suicide by the State Medical Examiner.
"Whether or not that would have made a difference in that situation, I can't tell. No one could. However, it may well have made a difference," he said.
Vance said Trooper One was not used in Bolton because state police in charge of the incident had a police dog searching for the woman and other resources on the ground.
At one point during the budget crisis last year, the sale of Trooper One was discussed.
A number of state troopers cannot understand why it appears to be forever waiting on the tarmac.
"When we purchased it we knew there would be a cost to providing that service to the public. So, to continue to claim that it's just purely economic doesn't sit well with us," said State Trooper Andy Matthews.
Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a prepared statement that all state agencies are continually evaluating their resources.
"Trooper One is a state asset that has been used during many emergencies across the state and at this time will continue to be a resource," he said.
Copyright 2012 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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