Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

We take you inside the cockpit of law enforcement helicopters around the world while sharing knowledge and insight on how to become a police or sheriff helicopter pilot.

LAPD AIR SUPPORT UNIT:

LAPD EC AS350 Helicopter on patrol. Photo by Glenn Grossman, used by permission.

The Los Angeles Police Department maintains the largest police aviation unit in the U.S., and they can boast that they have the largest municipal police aviation unit in the world. There are a couple of units larger such as the South African Police Service Air Unit, but they are a state wide vs. a municipal agency.

LAPD Air Support operates a total of 17 helicopters and one King Air 200. Their primary base is the Hooper Memorial Heliport which is a roof top heliport in downtown L.A. complete with it's own control tower. The control tower coordinates all helicopter traffic in and out of the heliport as well as maintaining radio communication with LAX (Los Angeles International Airport).

Of the 17 helicopters in their fleet 12 are Eurocopter AS350's, 4 are Bell 206 Jet Rangers, and until recently the 17th helicopter was a Bell Uh-1H (Huey). The unit is in the process of transitioning from the Huey to the Bell 412.

Operating a fleet of 17 helicopters and providing adequate cover and assistance to the street cops of Los Angeles requires a little bit of manpower. On average the LAPD Air Support Units has 77 sworn personnel assigned to it. The number likely fluctuates a little bit as people move in and out of the unit.

UH-12 hiller helicopter nasa.jpg

NASA file photo of a Hiller UH-12 helicopter.According to the LAPD Air Support Website the unit got it's start in 1956 with a single Hiller UH-12J helicopter assigned to the traffic division to patrol the freeways. A handful of helicopters were added over the years but in 1968 the first turbine powered Bell 206 Jet Ranger cam on board. In 1974 what was then known as the "helicopter unit" began to undergo a major expansion, and became designated as the Air Support Division.

The LAPD Air Support Division is slowly trading in their older Eurocopters for newer Eurocopter models.  The new models however are entering service with the more traditional black and white paint schemes we are used to seeing on most police department patrol cars.  The new paint scheme seems to be widely excepted by both officers in the air unit and officers on the ground. 

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LAPD Helicopter new paint scheme, Glenn Grossman Photo-used by permission.

Is the LAPD Air Support Division Effective?

The effectiveness of police aviation units are often questioned by both the citizens as well as government leaders charged with funding their operations. A few detractors consider some law enforcement air units as nothing more than a tax payer funded flying club. While most street cops know the value of having a helicopter overhead at the right time, it is always nice to have a legitimate study to support this position. The following information is directly from LAPD's Air Support Division website:

"A study commissioned by NASA and conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Space Technology Applications Office confirmed the study and report findings as follows:

*The number of Part 1 Property Crimes is reduced when an LAPD helicopter is overhead.

*The number of arrests associated with radio calls is three times higher with the involvement of LAPD aircrews.

*The citizens of Los Angeles accept helicopter patrols as a necessary part of the City’s police system and strongly favor their continuation.

*Department ground based officers universally support a strong airborne law enforcement program within the department."

As stated, it is nice to have an entity such as NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirm what many of us in law enforcement already know.

So what does it take to become a member of the Los Angeles Police Department's Air Support Division?

Well you first must become a sworn police officer for the city of Los Angeles, and you must have 5 years of patrol experience.  Here again is what the LAPD Air Support Division website says about their selection and training process:

"Air Support Division selects the very best officers for assignment to ASD. The requirements to apply for Command Pilot are a minimum of 5 years with the Department with at least three years in patrol and an FAA Private pilot’s license with an additional 100 hours of Pilot in Command time. After our pilots are selected, they complete approximately six months of intense helicopter training. While in training, the pilots obtain a commercial rotorcraft rating from the FAA. Once given their final check ride from our Chief Pilot, they are presented with their Command Pilot "Wings" from the Commanding Officer of Air Support Division.

The requirements for the position of Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) are a minimum of 5 years with the Department with at least three years in patrol. When the selection process is completed, the officer is then assigned to ASD on a 30-day loan. During the loan, the officer’s skill level and suitability as a TFO are evaluated. Once the TFO has proven an outstanding ability to handle the stress involved in managing pursuits, a complex radio package, perimeters of suspects involved in felony crimes and locating hard to find addresses, they are requested to return to the division for a 4- month probationary period. After that time, the TFO is then given a final check ride from our Chief Tactical Flight Officer and presented with Tactical Flight Officer Wings" from the Commanding Officer of Air support Division.

Air Support Division has ongoing training for both pilots and Tactical Flight Officers as well as proficiency check rides for both on a regularly scheduled basis."

Sidebar:  One of the primary purposes of this website is to provide accurate information on how to become a police helicopter pilot, as well as encouragement for young people or anyone with a dream of one day becoming a police helicopter pilot. 

Any young person who lives on the west coast or even in the western half of the country, with a dream or goal to become a police pilot would have to give LAPD serious consideration.  In addition to all the things I have written about in the series "how to become a police helicopter pilot" it is still a bit of a numbers game.  If you hire onto a department with one or two helicopters and an 8 or 10 man unit, your odds of landing a position in that unit are probably less than the odds of getting into an air unit the size of LAPD's Air Support Division. 

Yes of course you will likely have more competition on a larger department as well.  But the larger the unit- the more people assigned to it- the more movement over a period of years.  Just something to think about. 

With the largest police aviation unit in the U.S., LAPD puts up some impressive numbers when it comes to catching bad guys.  They are also in a position to spot trends and hone certain techniques due to the sheer activity and number of calls responded to.  LAPD Air Support Division continues to lead the way in law enforcement aviation.