Salt Lake County may get word as early as next week on whether it will be allowed to buy two Army-surplus helicopters for use by the sheriff's office as patrol and observation craft.

The sheriff's office has the approval of county and state officials to purchase the retired TH55 training copters now in storage at Ft. Rucker, Ala., and has turned in an official request to the Army.But agencies in at least 23 other states also are interested in the helicopters, and the county must wait to see whether it is allocated any of the aircraft.

The Army is selling 180 of the trainers for the bargain price of $1,000 each, but the U.S. Air Force has already claimed 40 for target practice.

The remaining helicopters are being allocated to applying agencies on the basis of need, and that has sheriff's Lt. Ben Anjewierden hopeful.

"I think we're ranked as a pretty high priority in terms of need," said Anjewierden, a helicopter pilot for the Army Reserve, of the county's request.

The two-seat, piston-engine-powered helicopters are too small to be used for search and rescue missions and are less than ideal for police work. But the sheriff's office has no aircraft, and the copters - one that will fly and one that will be cannibalized for spare sports - can be useful for patrol and observation duties.

Although retired by the Army, the helicopters are in excellent condition, Anjewierden said.

"On a condition scale from 1 to 9, they're all considered 8's," he said.