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.

New York Police Department Aviation Division

NYPD Air Support; NYPD Air Sea Rescue


The NYPD Air Support Division receives its first of four new Bell 429 patrol helicopters which will replace the A119 Koala. The transition to the 429 twin engine helicopter should be complete by the close of 2015.


NYPD Aviation Unit History

One of the first police aviation units in the U.S. was established in 1929 at Floyd Bennett Air Field in Brooklyn New York. The NYPD's Air Support Division was an all fixed wing fleet when it first took to the skies to try to get a handle on the swarms of Barnstormers that had descended on the city in the early days of aviation. Just about any empty field was turned into an impromptu air field and air show. It was not long before the NYPD began experiences a new phenomenon called traffic jams. Soon the police bi-planes were reporting on traffic conditions and directing officers to traffic accidents. 

Two NYPD Officers pose with their open cockpit Bi-Plane at Floyd Bennett Field in the early days of police aviation. Brooklyn NY

The New York Police Department's Aviation Unit arguably lays claim to be one of the first airborne law enforcement units in the world. 

Helicopters were not introduced to the NYPD Air Support Unit until 1948 when they received their first Bell 47 helicopter. NYPD also has the distinction of employing the very first Bell helicopter in a law enforcement air support unit. While today the NYPD has an advanced Air & Sea Rescue Unit even some of the very first Bell 47's and even fixed wing aircraft were outfitted with floats in order to carry out water rescue missions. 

This early Bell 47 NYPD helicopter was outfitted with floats and a rescue basket to perform water rescues around the city.

In 1954 the last fixed wing aircraft in the NYPD Aviation Division was parked and the unit became an all helicopter air support unit. 

This Bell 206 Jet Ranger saw service in the NYPD Air Support Unit between early helicopters such as the Bell 47 and more modern helicopters such as the A119 Koala and the Bell 429.


NYPD Aviation Today

Today the NYPD Air Support and Air Sea Rescue operate out of the only home they have ever known, Floyd Bennett Field on the water's edge in Brooklyn NY. The unit consist of 69 total personnel, most of which are sworn officers, including maintenance personnel. 

The air support unit currently operates 4 medium lift helicopters, Bell 412 EP's, and 4 light helicopters. The 412 medium helicopters are used for missions such as tactical support, fast roping, firefighting-Bambi Bucket operations, port security and rescue operations. It is the 4 light helicopters that are undergoing a conversion from the AgustaWestland A119 to the Bell 429. NYPD received their first 429 in July of 2014 with the remaining 3 scheduled for delivery before the end of 2015. 

This Fairfax County Va Bell 429 provides a visual perspective of the light twin operating in a police tactical role. Photo- Bell Helicopters

The 429 is a twin engine helicopter but is still in the light category. The NYPD 429's will be outfitted with Trakkabeam searchlights, the MX10 EO/IR camera system, a Goodrich Hoist and will meet New York State requirements to serve as a certified air ambulance. 

The AgustaWestland A119 Koala which has served the NYPD for many years will be replaced by the Bell 429.

As part of the switch over from the AgustaWestland A119 to the Bell 429 NYPD Aviation also took delivery of a Bell 407GX to be used as a trainer. Both the 407GX (single engine) and the 429 come equipped with an all glass cockpit. The Bell 429 also comes with an advanced drive system, WAAS Navigation, IFR capabilities and can carry up to 8 people. 

The four bladed Bell 412; Note the external hoist above the door for rescues, the search light & camera under the nose and the pop out floats on the landing gear for emergency water landings.

The Bell 412 is classified as a medium lift helicopter and is the largest helicopter operated by NYPD. The 412 is the workhorse for the Air Unit's Sea Rescue program and is available 24 hours a day with 2 NYPD Scuba divers on board.

This high tech Bell 412 EO operated by NYPD has radiation detecting capabilities. It is reported to have cost between $9 million and $14 million when all of its specialized equipment is factored in. 


Becoming a Police Helicopter Pilot for NYPD

To be illegible for transfer into the NYPD air unit you not only must be a sworn officer, but you must have a private helicopter pilots license, or a commercial fixed wing  rating, and/or an A&P (airframe & powerplant) license if you are applying for a maintenance position.

Five (5) years of experience as a NYPD Officer is preferred before being illegible for the unit, however, an outstanding candidate with excellent credentials can make it in 3-5 years. 

Desired qualities are:  Aviation experience, excellent evaluations, good sick time record and excellent record of police service. 

Pilot positions are both competitive and demanding. New pilot candidates take a written exam as well as a physical agility test followed by an interview in front of a board. Testing and interview scores are then combined with points for things such as military experience, police experience, and even their sick time record. When the new pilot is finally selected they face a long and intensive training program. 

Training of New Police Pilots in NYPD's Air Unit

The following information outlining the NYPD's new pilot training program was taken from an article written by retired NYPD Cheif Pilot Lt. Ken Solosky, for Professional Pilot and linked up here at wescam.com. Ken Solosky was also kind enough to review the first copy of Catch The Sky and a portion of his review appears on the cover. 

Upon assignment as a pilot, the new recruit goes through:

 ·         Initial training including 8 weeks of Academics

 ·         14 weeks of initial helicopter flight training

 ·         1 week of instrument orientation

 ·         3 weeks of solo and cross country navigation

 ·         1 week of FAA commercial test prep

 ·         3 weeks of basic police mission skills.

 ·         The pilot is then designated as a Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) and will perform the duties on    the police side of the aircraft (operating the night sun searchlight, infrared FLIR camera, etc) on actual police missions.

 ·         The pilot will carry out TFO duties, which also include flying the aircraft for 6-12 months before being considered for upgrade to pilot-in-command.

 ·         During this 6 to 12 month period the pilot will also receive;

 ·         25 hrs of instrument flight instruction and 25 hrs in the unit’s Frasca flight simulator in order to earn his helicopter instrument rating.

 ·         As the new pilot progresses in experience he will receive;

 ·         25 hrs of air-sea rescue scenario-based training such as scuba deployments, rescue hoist operations, ship/vessel operations, maritime security operations and maritime navigation.

 ·         The pilot also receives an additional 25 hrs of scenario-based training in tactical operations  such as rappelling, fast rope deployment, high rise and rooftop insertions, mobile airborne radiological surveys, fire suppression and formation flying.

 ·         NVG certification with 10 hrs of classroom and 10 hrs of flight training using the NVGs in addition to participation in the Bell Flight Training Academy NVG course.


NYPD Air Sea Rescue

An NYPD Air Sea Rescue helicopter hoisting a diver out of the water on an actual water rescue.

Over the years NYPD's Air Sea Rescue program has grown in the vacuum left when the U.S. Coast Guard reassigned its air assets in the area. The closest Coast Guard helicopter to the city now must respond from either Cape Cod or Atlantic City NJ. The NYPD Air Support Unit now occupies the old U.S. Coast Guard facilities on Floyd Bennett Field. The result is that NYPD's Air Sea Rescue helicopters & crews now respond to calls within a 60 mile radius of the city. More than once the unit has found itself up to 20 miles off shore on a sea rescue incident. It is not uncommon for the NYPD Air Sea Rescue team to receive a request from the U.S. Coast Guard when their response might be delayed. 

Each NYPD Bell 412 rescue helicopter is staffed with two pilots, a crew chief who is also an A&P mechanic, and two police officer SCUBA divers. The unit is staffed and available for calls 24 hours a day. 

Water rescues are not new to the NYPD Air Unit. The first water rescues were carried out by the unit in the 1930s when fixed wing aircraft outfitted with floats would land on the water and literally throw a lifeline to a person in distress. 

The NYPD has been flying the Bell 412 as a search and rescue helicopter since 1986.


NYPD Aviation Unit In The News

Emergency Water Landing- 2010

In 2010 this NYPD Bell 412 was forced to make an emergency water landing when it experienced mechanical problems. 

On Deptember 22, 2010 a NYPD Bell 412 helicopter flying in support of a presidential detail experienced mechanical problems and made a forced water landing in Jamaica Bay near Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn. The female pilot in command reported that she heard a loud bang before losing power in at least one of the engines. The veteran pilot was able to deploy the aircraft's emergency flotation devices allowing the helicopter to remain floating upright. The six officers on board were able to step from the floating helicopter onto a rescue boat. 

Police Commissioner Ray Kelly tells reporters NYPD aircraft can take down other aircraft- 2011.

In September of 2011 Police Commissioner Ray Kelly raised eyebrows when he told 60 minutes' Scott Pelley that the NYPD had the ability to shoot down hostile aircraft. The exchange went something like this;

Pelley: Do you mean to say that the NYPD has the means to take down an aircraft?

Kelly: Yes, I prefer not to get into the details but obviously this would be in a very extreme situation.

Pelley: You have the equipment and the training.

Kelly: Yes.

As it turns out however Kelly was not talking about air to air missiles or anything of the nature but rather a Barrett .50 cal machine in which his officers have received training firing from the helicopter. It was also revealed that the .50 caliber machine gun is kept in a police department safe and is only brought out on special occasions when a higher level of force protection can be justified.