The workhorse aircraft that brought heavily armed police into Barra del Colorado is being decommissioned.
This is the twin-engine Caribou C-7 that has the biggest payload of all the craft in the Servicio de Vigilancia Aérea.
This also is the aircraft that treated police officials to a hair-raising emergency landing June 24 last year when an engine failed over Tortugero. The security ministry downplayed the event at the time, but informal sources said that the pilots did a great job getting everyone down in one piece at the Barra del Colorado airport.
The aircraft was used to rotate police in and out of the northeaster Costa Rican community after Nicaragua soldiers appeared in Costa Rican territory.
The Ministerio de Gobernación, Policía y Seguridad Pública said that the aircraft is being retired because it is 50 years old. Sort of like an old race horse being put out to spend the declining years in a Kentucky pasture.
The story is more complex. The aircraft underwent a complete restoration, but those with a good ear in Barra del Colorado said they knew there was a problem with the engine. They said the radial turboprop motor made unusual sounds and dripped oil.
The ministry, itself, said that the motor was only 10 hours old, suggesting that a motor had been installed after the complete restoration. The ministry said the price tag was $200,000 a motor, which would be a bargain basement price.
News reports say that the ministry became involved in a legal dispute with the local firm that had provided the new engine. Officials were looking for some form of a guarantee. That situation is still up in the air, so to speak.
Barra residents say that the aircraft languished at least for three months on the tarmac at the local airport after the engine incident. The engine was taken off and brought to San José for repair. A guard was mounted at the aircraft until it was flown out delicately by a bare bones crew last September.
Apparently there still were problems with the motor or motors because the ministry said the retirement was basically because officials did not want to keep paying for repairs. In the past three years, the Caribou had 49 flights that logged more than 84 hours total. The craft is designed for landings on short fields.
The plane was flown for anti-drug procedures, humanitarian services, emergency airlifts, and other general police operations. Registered as MSP-002, the aircraft gave the country’s officers better technology and a faster response time than they ever had before, said a police press report. It was also able to carry up to 30 men at a time, allowing forces to be more flexible in their operations.
Officials are expecting to seek a similar new craft. The Caribou is valued at about $600,000.
The aircraft was not all just police work. This is the plane that dumped 2,000 kilos of rose petals on the multitude gathered at the basilica in Cartago in 2011 for the Día de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles.