Austin Police Department Air Operations Unit
The Austin Police Department Air Operations Unit owns and operates a total of three aircraft which include 1- American Eurocopter EC 120B “Colibri”, 1- U.S. Army surplus OH-58 A+ helicopter along with one fixed wing airplane.
Austin Police Dept. EC 120B patrol helicopterAs far as police aviation units go, the Austin Police air unit is relatively young. While they have owned and operated the fixed wing aircraft for many years, they did not receive their first police patrol helicopter until December of 2001. After receiving transition training from American Eurocopter, the unit’s first official mission was flown approximately 1 month later in January of 02 during a presidential visit from then President George Bush.
The Austin Police Air Ops Unit is currently staffed by 1- Lieutenant, 1- Sergeant, 2- Corporals, and 3- Officers. The unit operates primarily with 2 commercially rated helicopter pilots, and 3- tactical flight officers. Even with this small group of aviators the unit is able to provide aerial law enforcement coverage 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. When not on duty, at least one pilot and one TFO remain on call 24 hours a day available to respond to emergencies.
Austin PD's Bell OH-58 patrol helicopter. In 2005 members of the Austin Police air unit traveled to Ft. Rucker Alabama where they took possession of a surplus OH-58 helicopter from the U.S. Army. The helicopter and all of it’s spare parts were obtained free of charge. The helicopter was flown from Ft. Rucker back to Austin where it underwent an extensive refurbishment. The helicopter was outfitted with police radios and a Night Sun spotlight, but maintained it’s military OD green paint scheme. The helicopter’s primary role is as a back up to the EC 120 when the required maintenance inspections come due.
Austin PD’s primary patrol helicopter, the EC 120 is outfitted with a full range of police equipment to include moving maps and heat sensing infrared camera (FLIR). Austin Police pilots operate both helicopters on NVG’s during night time patrol.
With an air unit as young as Austin’s it’s a little harder to pin down the average length of time an officer might have to wait until earning a spot in the unit. Currently both pilots came into the units as Tactical Flight Officers and both obtained a number of aviation ratings at their own expense, to include fixed wing commercial and IFR ratings, and at least one obtained his commercial rotorcraft rating at his own expense. Some of the current TFO’s came into the unit with around 5 years on the department. All members of the Austin Police Aviation unit are sworn officers with the exception of their one aircraft maintenance technician.
Night shot of Austin Police Patrol helicopter, American Eurocopter EC 120B
Sources: Austin Police Air Operations, Wikipedia.com