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Carson Sheriff’s Aero Squadron volunteers

Karl Horeis
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Chuck Saulisberry, left, and Gary Handelin talk about the Carson City Sheriff's Aero Squadron on Wednesday at the Carson City Airport. The squadron is a group of volunteer pilots who provide prisoner transports, surveillance and communication relays.
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Not every private pilot has flown with a 250-pound prisoner in leg irons riding in the back seat, but Gary Handelin has. Prisoner transport is just one of his jobs as a volunteer with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department’s Aero Squadron.

“A lot of the prisoners have never flown before,” he said. “They’re usually pretty reserved.”

Handelin is the group’s secretary and treasurer. He was at the airport Wednesday with Chuck Saulisberry, who held that position for more than 20 years.

All members of the squadron are deputized, and most are firearms-certified.

“We’re basically a reserve organization for the Sheriff’s Department,” Handelin said. “If we fly a mission for the Sheriff’s Department, then we’re activated at that time.”

Other than prisoner transport, the squadron does aerial surveillance, helps with searches, and sets up communication relays.

“When they’re searching for somebody on horseback down in a canyon it’s hard for them to contact other ground patrols,” Saulisberry said. “We can talk to all of them from the air and pass messages.”

The group was founded in 1966 under former Sheriff Bob Humphrey. Saulisberry joined in 1967.

“When we started here (at the airport), this was all dirt,” he said, scanning the blacktop. “There were no hangars – we just sort of tied our airplanes down.”

The squadron paid to have their tie-down area paved in 1970. Two years later, members Paul Matthews and Harold Samuelson built the group’s 10-by-20-foot cinderblock building. Their base hosted fly-ins of the Western States Association of Air Squadrons in 1971, ’78, ’84 and ’96.

The Carson squadron has eight aircraft – three twin-engine planes and five single-engine crafts. Handelin owns a Cessna 206 six-seater, and Saulisberry owns a four-seater Cessna 182 Skylane.

It’s not cheap to keep planes flying. Fuel runs about $2.25 per gallon, and the planes burn from 12 to 15 gallons an hour.

“(Owning a plane) is just a little more expensive than a luxury car,” Handelin said.

The squadron gets compensated for the fuel it uses during missions for the Sheriff’s Department, but that’s it. In the past, they’ve done plane-ride fund-raisers that are open to the public. They plan to offer rides again this summer.

“Originally, I think it was to raise funds for equipment, but now we give all the money back to the community,” Handelin said. The squadron has donated more than $20,000 since 1966 – mostly to the Boys & Girls Club and Special Olympics.

The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month in the lounge at El Aero Services, Inc.

“We’re always looking for members,” Saulisberry said. “Ideally, pilots with aircraft.”

For information, call Handelin at 888-4414. The aero squadron’s Web site, http://www.ccsas.org, is under construction.

Contact Karl Horeis at khoreis@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1219.