Foxtrot We're On the Way- Reviewed

Today San Antonio Police fly modern A Star helicopters. Unlike when Billy Anders piloted the unit's Hughes 269 piston helicopters in the late 70s.

Today San Antonio Police fly modern A Star helicopters. Unlike when Billy Anders piloted the unit's Hughes 269 piston helicopters in the late 70s.

So I just wrapped up reading Billy Anders book Foxtrot We're on the way, available on Amazon as a paperback or Kindle. Here is the review I posted to Amazon a few minutes ago. 

A book about dreams, aviation, friends, life, helicopters, police, and Cutting across Shorty. A must read!

Don’t think this book is just about flying police helicopters! It is so much more than that. Go back in time to a small town in Mississippi where a young Billy Anders first turned his eyes and hopes skyward as he watched WWII aircraft being flown to far off destinations. Come along on his first airplane ride on a Lockheed Constellation as he flies into Guatemala City at the age of 10, right into the middle of an attempted government takeover in the summer of 1953, complete with bomb laden P-51s.

Any aviation enthusiast will thoroughly enjoy sharing the author’s memories as he enters ROTC at LSU and begins to hop rides in the back seat of aircraft like the T-33 Shooting Star, and later Martin 404s and EC-121 Constellations. While his eyesight kept him out of military flight school, he traveled to South East Asia during the Vietnam War as a personnel officer attached to an F105 Fighter wing in Korat Thialand.

Back in Texas Billy obtains his pilot license and goes to work for $5 an hour flying beetle patrol and smoke patrol over the Texas forest for a small flying service out of Jasper. Billy eventually finds his way into the newly formed air wing of the San Antonio Police Department where he takes to the skies in the department’s two piston powered Hughes 269 (Schweizer 300) helicopters as they search for bodies, chase stolen cars, and occasionally interrupt young lovers who thought they were well hidden from public eyes.

More than flying, this book is about people; the people who influenced the author’s life and his life-long love of aviation. It’s about the LSU ROTC classmates that didn’t make it back from Vietnam.  It’s about the SAPD sergeant that recruited the author to join the SAPD and brought him into the air wing, who left this world too early. It’s about all the officers who ever shared the cockpit, a police car, or just a good story with the author. It’s about boyhood friends who helped encourage the author’s dream of flight, who have now passed on. And it’s about family and how the father’s love of aviation influenced his children’s futures in powerfully positive ways. Finally it’s about God, and giving credit where credit is due.

I could not review this book without mentioning the phrase “cutting across Shorty.” No doubt taken from Eddie Cochran’s 1960 hit “Cut Across Shorty”, in SAPD Aviation lingo it referred to those times when the bad guy in his hot rod was outrunning your piston powered Hughes 269 helicopter. But the one trick the helicopter pilot has up his sleeve is cutting across Shorty. While the bad guy and his car has to stick to the roads as they are laid out geographically, the helicopter crew tries to close the gap by flying the shortcut- a straight line- to intercept. Every police pilot in the nation has “cut across Shorty” at one time or another we just did not know that was what it was called!

The author does a masterful job of weaving all of these stories together, childhood, military, police calls, flight school; back and forth so the reader does not have to wait long for the next police call or the next story about trying to land a small plane at a darkened south Texas airport by lining up only two lights on poles and counting the estimated number of seconds before the wheels touched the runway.

This book is about life! Following your dreams, touching the sky, touching other people and looking back on a great life lived. This book is for the young or old. Anyone interested in a career in aviation or anyone who wants to take a flight back through aviation will surely enjoy their time spent with Billy Anders as his co-pilot.

See my previous post on Billy’s book for more details

New Police Helicopter Book "Foxtrot We're On the Way" Hits Online Book Stores

From 1975 to 1981, Billy Anders, a police officer and commercial helicopter pilot, helped pioneer the use of helicopters in law enforcement. As a member of the San Antonio Police Department's Air Support unit, back when Airborne Law Enforcement was still in it's infancy, Anders was at the controls of either a Hughes 500C turbine helicopter or two of the department's Schweizer 300 piston powered helicopters zipping through the air toward "hot" police calls.

Amazon Kindle version                                                                     Paperback version

Author Billy Anders is pictured here with San Antonio Police Department's Vietnam Era Hughes 500C turbine helicopter.

Now over 30 years later Billy Anders has put his experiences down on paper, or on your favorite Kindle, for all police and helicopter enthusiasts to enjoy. Here are just a few of the stories Billy recounts in his memoir; 

"The Day I Bombed Salado Creek - The Body That Didn’t Get Away - The Night the Lights Went Out - Sex and the Single Helicopter Pilot - The Dream That Went Bad - The Angry Go-Away Arm - The Shot Not Heard ‘Round the World! Learn about early leaders in Sgt. Jarke’s Final Chapter, and Cedar Posts & Sardines." 

Before hanging up his law enforcement hat altogether Billy Anders accumulated 31 years experience as an outstanding police officer, SWAT commander; helicopter pilot and the proud recipient of a Master’s degree in Administration of Justice. If that were not enough Billy is a graduate of the FBI National Academy.

After 23 years were with the San Antonio, Texas, Police Department, where he finished his career as a Captain; he took a position as a Sergeant/ mountain deputy  with the Otero County Sheriff’s Office, working in and near the Sacramento Mountain village of Cloudcroft, New Mexico.

Billy counts his time at the controls of San Antonio's Foxtrot police helicopter as some of his most memorable years in law enforcement. 

Foxtrot "Were on the Way" is available in Kindle version from Amazon.com or in paperback from outskirtspress.com

I have not reviewed a copy as of yet, but Billy has promised to drop one in the mail soon. Look for a review here in a few weeks.

I encourage everyone to pick up their own copy of Billy's book. As co-author of my own book, Catch the Sky, I can tell you that it is a significant accomplishment and a great feeling when the very last period is put down on the page. I for one am looking forward to reading about working patrol in a Schweizer 300 piston helicopter. Happy reading!

Persistent Surveillance & Airborne Law Enforcement

What can a set of powerful airborne cameras do for you?

What happens when you mount a powerful camera, or an array of powerful cameras, in the belly pod of low cost fixed wing airplane and hang them 6,000’ over a city for 3 to 4 hours at a time? And what if those cameras could record the movement of every single person and every single vehicle in a 25 square mile area all at the same time for that 3 to 4 hour period.

Here is what you get. For every crime that occurs in that 25 square mile area that requires the perpetrator to move from one location to another, either by foot or vehicle, all of his movements are recorded and captured on hard drivers for evidence and review. Very often the suspect’s movements are captured for several hours both before he committed the crime(s) and several hours after he committed the crimes.

For Ross McNutt, the CEO and founder of Persistent Surveillance Systems based near Dayton Ohio, this scenario is a reality that has unfolded numerous times over American cities, often while he has been demonstrating his surveillance system to various government agencies. Specifically McNutt and his eye in the sky surveillance system has captured evidence on over 30 murders that occurred while his cameras were recording the suspect(s) movements before and after the crime. In some cases his cameras have captured the murder itself, as it happened. 

This image of a drive by shooting as it occurred, is from the Persistent Surveillance Systems website.

This image of a drive by shooting as it occurred, is from the Persistent Surveillance Systems website.

Information on the Persistent Surveillance System website lays out the case for his system in more detail. The PSS HAWKEYE system and image analysis have directly let to the apprehension of violent offenders and have assisted law enforcement on over 30 murder investigations since 2007. According to the website officers have used the imagery to do the following;

·                  Backtrack murder suspects to their homes/places of origin

·         Track suspects to every location thy went to before, during and after the crime

·         Identify potential accomplices of the suspect

·         Identify exactly what time and location a suspect or accomplice drove by a ground-based surveillance           camera

·         Dissect entire criminal networks in 3-4 days

One thing the cameras do not do is capture close up images of a person’s face. Suspects are typically not identified by their facial features, but rather by their movements and connections to vehicles and locations.

While in many cases the image evidence may not be accessed by law enforcement until several hours after it has been collected, the system has proven to be effective in near real time, or within minutes after a crime has occurred. During one demonstration flight over the city of Dayton, police officers on the ground received a radio call of a burglary occurring now. The system operator flying above the city checked his cameras and observed a white pickup truck leaving the scene. This information was relayed to police who were able to intercept the vehicle and make the arrest. The stolen property was located in the bed of the truck and the thief was positively identified by a witness. Thanks to the surveillance camera flying above the city, the suspect spent the next few days in the Montgomery County Jail instead of being able to continue his criminal enterprise.

In a similar case in 2012, also over Dayton Ohio, McNutt’s cameras captured a robbery suspect as he moved between his residence to three separate locations that he either cased or attempted to rob. At one of the locations the business owner pulled a gun and chased the suspect away. After one of the crimes the suspect was tracked to a gas station where the stations security camera caught a close up of his face. But police would not have known to check the station’s security cameras if he had not been tracked there by the surveillance system in the sky. This suspect also found himself behind bars at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton instead of planning more robberies.

Persistent Surveillance systems is not the only company developing or offering such a product. Northrop Grumman has teamed up with Quest Aircraft to offer a complete surveillance package. By matching their camera system called the “Air Claw” with the Quest Kodiak single engine turboprop high wing airplane, they can offer their customers a complete aerial platform capable of tracking multiple targets at once while gathering both before and after (the crime) forensic data.

Northrop Grumman teamed up with Quest Kodiak to off the The Air Claw surveillance platform

Northrop Grumman teamed up with Quest Kodiak to off the The Air Claw surveillance platform

Anticipating there would be detractors with privacy concerns, McNutt, took the unusual step of working with the American Civil Liberties Union to draft his company’s privacy policy. This policy outlines the circumstances under which law enforcement or any other entity can access the data collected by his company’s cameras.

While McNutt concedes he is in business to sell his product,   he also is a true believer that systems such as the one developed by him can have a significant effect on the crime rate in any city that deploys the technology on a routine basis. McNutt points out that when the crime rate drops significantly property values go up, there is increased development and other community benefits such as better schools. He also believes that in the long term it could even reduce the incarceration rates as the system becomes a deterrent to criminals that know if they venture out to commit crime, they will be on camera.

While it is unlikely that a surveillance system such as the one described will ever fully replace the traditional police helicopter, particularly in cities or counties with existing helicopter programs, it could very well provide a much more affordable alternative to smaller government entities. And for the cities that can afford both, it could be an excellent add-on to an existing aviation unit for targeting violent crime in a specific area.

When will Drones Replace Police Helicopter Pilots

Drones are everywhere and they seem to be cheap, right? When will they replace police helicopter crews over American and European cities?

This UAV was developed by Barnard Microsystems Limited in the UK for science applications

Like helicopter pilots everywhere I have sat back and quietly watched the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and Drone industries absolutely explode over the past five to eight years. Almost daily it seems there is a new drone or UAV unveiled somewhere with its own unique set of capabilities that make it superior to competitors.

Citizens everywhere are upset at the proliferation of drones and the perceived intrusiveness they bring to personal liberties. Other citizens seem to believe that all helicopter pilots will one day be replaced by drone aircraft.  There seems to be an undercurrent of belief that instead of manned police helicopters patrolling the skies over their cities; it will all be unmanned or autonomous drones.

Many local police and sheriff departments are snatching up their own UAV-Drones. In October of 2011 the Montgomery County Sheriff's Department located just north of Houston Texas, purchased their own MK-II ShadowHawk Unmanned Helicopter from Vanguard Defense Industries for about $220,000. Unlike other smaller battery operated drones, Montgomery County's helicopter has almost a 6' wingspan, weighs 29 lbs and runs on jet fuel. 

Even in my own air unit I recently overheard two of the younger members opining as to whether they would ever be replaced by drones.

While none of us can fully predict what the makeup of the police helicopter crew will be in 30-40 years I think we can make some educated guesses based on the facts at hand.

At any rate, consider this article my opinion on the topic of unmanned drones replacing human helicopter pilots and crews in the coming years. 

This is a quite a large topic with many sub-topics; I will not attempt to cover every single angle in this one article.

In order to begin a talk of drones replacing law enforcement helicopter crews one has to really try to compartmentalize the discussion. Currently the drone market represents everything from tiny nanobots to the newest MQ-8C Fire Scout Fire Scout based on the Bell 407 airframe, all the way up to the autonomous heavy left Lockheed Martin/Kaman K-Max helicopter currently operated by the Marine Corps, (only two were built and one has since crashed.)

Cost of the new MQ-8C Fire Scout is estimated to be $18.2 million per unit

So to even discuss drones vs. real helicopter crews where do you start? Do you just compare same size drones to same size law enforcement helicopters? Or do you compare capabilities of the drone vs. capabilities of the real helicopter crew?

We have to have a starting point. Through reading, research, aviation experience and a little application of brain power I have come up with three primary points or questions that I think apply most prominently to the discussion. Again the question is; will drones ever replace police helicopter crews.

  • First, what is the purpose of replacing real pilots with pilot-less drones to begin with? Is there even a need to replace human police helicopter crews?
  • Next; is it cost effective to replace real pilots with pilot-less drones? Many people assume that it is but you might be surprised.
  • Finally, while the FAA has been ordered by congress to integrate drones into the U.S. Air Space system by 2015, will the final rule(s) allow pilot-less drones to ever operate over populated American Cities?

Now perhaps the even bigger question to ask is; could an unmanned drone aircraft ever be as effective as a police helicopter crew with two humans, two brains and 4 eyeballs working as a team inside the helicopter, versus a crew sitting at a control station on the ground miles away? While this is perhaps the best question to ask, I am not going to address it in this article simply because I don’t think we need to go that far. There is a ton of published data that speaks directly to the other three points, which we can use to help us reach a reasonable conclusion.

But to answer the question, I don’t really know how one would argue that taking the helicopter crew out of a helicopter and putting them in a ground control station miles away, with all of their visual input coming through a single camera lense, could possible enhance the overall mission.

As a reminder, for this discussion I am not talking about small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) that a police officer or SWAT Commander can pull out of their trunk or command vehicle and deploy, keeping it in line of site below 400’ agl, in order to scout a suspect’s residence or perhaps even search a small field for a lost child. I am talking about replacing entire helicopter crews that operate over virtually every large American City or European City for that matter.

Let me also say at this point that I have no ax to grind with the drone industry or the small UAV industry. Any tool that can help a police officer catch the bad guy, or complete his/her mission safely or find that missing child, is fine by me. 

What is the real purpose of replacing pilots and crews with pilot-less drones?

On the surface it seems as though there are only two real reasons to replace a live pilot with a pilotless drone. The first and foremost is to remove the pilot from hostile combat situations. No doubt that lives of pilots have already been saved since drones took to the skies over Iraq and Afghanistan in the year 2000, (operated first by the CIA.)

The second reason to replace a manned aircraft with a drone is that the amount of time the drone can stay in the air is now limited to fuel instead of pilot-human needs. That means keeping that eye in the sky up there for as long as 14 or 20 hours depending on the drone.

Are police helicopter pilots and crews, operating over American Cities, working in hostile combat situations? For the most part, no they are not. While a police helicopter has been taken down by gunfire before, we are not losing police helicopters to RPG’s the last time I checked. No great need to replace the police helicopter crew for this reason.

Ok, how about loiter time over a city? Now from a law enforcement standpoint I can see the benefit of hanging a powerful Star SAFIRE Flir at 20,000’ over a city, for 15 or 20 hours at a time, and when a priority call comes out you just zoom in on the address and start getting live feed of the unfolding crime. Sounds pretty cool huh; except for those citizens who are really concerned about big brother watching their every move- not so cool for them.

To answer this question we have to look forward to question number three. Will the FAA ever allow unmanned drones to operate over populated American cities? I think by the end of the article you, like me, will conclude that few county and municipal governments will see neither the need nor the cost effectiveness in putting a drone camera above their city for 15 or 20 hour stretches.

While it may seem that we have already answered the question of whether there is even a need to replace police helicopter pilots with drones, these next two areas I think are the real eye openers. 

Moving on to the cost effectiveness of operating pilot-less drones 

Placing a drone in the sky for long periods of time is a wartime tactic. If we are going to discuss replacing piloted helicopter crews with unmanned drones, then I think we need to compare apples to apples.  

Let’s take a quick look at what it takes to operate the most basic drone over hostile territory.  

Enter the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator Drone.

The MQ-1 Predator Drone is a piston powered base line drone with a per unit cost of about $5 million

The very first thing you need to understand is that the Predator Drone falls out of the sky on a fairly regular basis, for a variety of reasons but almost never due to enemy action. I have heard it said that the MQ-1 Predator does not have any redundant systems on board. If the computer takes a dump and re-boots, that particular aircraft becomes a smoking hole in the ground. The following information from Wikipedia seems to confirm this.

Note-while this seems like it should fall under a safety argument, it also falls under the cost effective argument as you will see. Making a reliable unmanned drone with numerous redundant systems is expensive.

“By the start of the United States Afghan campaign in 2001, the USAF had acquired 60 Predators, and said it had lost 20 of them in action. Few if any of the losses were from enemy action, the worst problem apparently being foul weather, particularly icy conditions.  A few of the later USAF Predators were fitted with de-icing systems, along with an uprated turbocharged engine and improved avionics.

As of March 2009, the U.S. Air Force had 195 MQ-1 Predators and 28 MQ-9 Reapers in operation. Predators and Reapers fired missiles 244 times in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007 and 2008. A report in March 2009 indicated that U.S. Air Force had lost 70 Predators in air crashes during its operational history. Fifty-five were lost to equipment failure, operator error, or weather. Four have been shot down in Bosnia, Kosovo, or Iraq. Eleven more were lost to operational accidents on combat missions. In 2012, the Predator, Reaper and Global Hawk were described as "... the most accident-prone aircraft in the Air Force fleet."

Here is where we get into the cost effective part

So what is the current cost of a single MQ-1 Predator Drone? For the most basic, piston powered drone that General Atomics makes the costs is 4.5 to $5 million. Remember we are comparing a piston powered fixed wing drone to a turbine powered police helicopter. We haven’t started comparing helicopter drones to police helicopters.

So now we have some understanding of the weaknesses of some drone aircraft, and with that in mind, let’s take a look at what it takes to put a drone in the skies over a combat zone.

According to this 2012 US News Article drones are only slightly cheaper overall than conventional fighter jets.

“But a new report released this week by the American Security Project, or ASP, concludes that most military drones are only "generally slightly cheaper to both acquire and operate than conventional fighter jets."

“Despite claims to the contrary, unmanned planes require a large crew: There is one remote pilot, another remote crew member to operate the valuable cameras mounted on many, and "because a drone is not operated individually, but as part of a system consisting of several aircraft, sensors, ground control, and satellite linkages, the number of personnel needed to operate a Predator Combat Air Patrol (CAP) is estimated to exceed 80 people," states the report. It refers to the Predator unmanned plane that has been used in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and allegedly in Yemen. The number of crew members needed to operate other drone fleets composed of four aircraft can approach 130, ASP concludes.”

Note- the Predator drone has always been sold to the government in groups of 4, along with a ground control station and associated equipment. The $4.5 to $5 million is a per unit costs and does not include the cost of any associated equipment such as the ground control station. Dividing the above numbers by 4, you can see that it would still require an average of 20 to 40 people to operate a single drone as they are currently operated in the combat zone.

Remember too that the MQ-1 Predator and its predecessor the MQ-1C Grey Eagle are the most basic of all military drones. The next step up in the General Atomics line is the MQ-9 Reaper which is powered by a Honeywell TPE331-10GD turboprop engine with 900 shaft horse power. While we are still talking about fixed wing drones, the Reaper allows us to now compare turbine engine drone to turbine engine police helicopter.

The turboprop MQ-9 Reaper has an estimated per unit cost of $16.9 million

Of course the reaper has an all-around more robust electronics package to for its war time mission but what is the price of the Reaper? The most recent unit cost for an MQ-9 Reaper has been put at 16.9 million. Sure a civilian law enforcement version would not need the weapons targeting systems and such, so the price would be somewhat cheaper. But anyone who thinks a drone aircraft capable of fully replacing a police helicopter crew is going to be an affordable solution has probably not conducted any serious research on the matter.  

The same report concludes that drones have a "greater tendency toward mishaps" than piloted warplanes. There goes your safety factor again.

So back to the first two questions we asked at the beginning of this section. What is the purpose of replacing a police helicopter crew? We determined there is no real need to replace the crew due to hostile environment.

That only leaves us to consider “loiter time over a city” as a reason to replace the police helicopter crew, in my opinion. I think we have shown that the combination of safety concerns (for now) and cost of trying to duplicate a drones loiter time in the combat zone, with loiter time over a populated city, are both cost prohibitive and prohibitive from a safety standpoint. So we have answered our first two questions already, right?

Opening up US skies over populated cities to drones?

While the FAA has been ordered by congress to integrate drones into the U.S. Air Space system by 2015, will the final rule(s) allow pilot-less drones to ever operate over populated American Cities?

The FAA has always gone through great lengths to protect the public on the ground from the aircraft flying above its head. That is why helicopters are generally restricted from operating below 500’ above ground level while over populated areas, and fixed wing are restricted from operating below 1000’ feet agl over populated areas.

Both altitudes are based on the minimum altitude that a safe landing can be conducted in the event of an engine out situation in either aircraft, per the FAA. FAA rules also prohibit a pilot from operating a helicopter or fixed wing aircraft within 500’ or 1000’ respectively, vertically or horizontally, of any person except while taking off and landing. The FAA takes public safety seriously.

To get an idea what the FAA rule might look like, and what drone manufacturers are going to have to do to comply with it, I scoured the internet and came up with this article on Popular Mechanics.com

Popular Mechanics did a great job of going right to the source for the best answers. John Walker is a former FAA director and now co-chair of a federal advisory panel that is developing standards for UAS technology.

As a starting point here is the FAA’s current rule regarding UAVs. Currently the FAA allows unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) or (UAV) to fly as long as their operators keep them in sight, fly below 400 feet, and avoid populated areas and airports. These are the small drones that are being heavily marketed to police and law enforcement agencies by the UAV industry. Law Enforcement and government agencies have to register their UAVs and jump through some extra hoops, but that is generally the rule.

But coming up with safety standards for large drones that fly at altitude (think 5, 10, 20,000 feet) it is far more complicated than regulating the operation of an RC plane flying along at treetop level or a little higher, within the operator's line of sight.

The Popular Mechanics article states;

“Aerospace companies and the Pentagon are developing systems that combine radar, cameras, or other sensors with software that will detect aircraft and change course to avoid them. Some of the systems rely on ground stations, while more advanced versions are incorporated into the drones.

This solution comes with engineering drawbacks, however. "By hanging that type of technology on an unmanned aircraft, you start adding a lot of weight and draining a lot of power," says Viva Austin, the civilian official in charge of the Army's ground-based sense-and-avoid project.

John Walker, a former FAA director and co-chair of a federal advisory panel that is developing standards for UAS technology, says technical demands will likely slow the pace of drone adoption. For example, the panel may recommend that the FAA require sense-and-avoid systems that will steer a drone away from potential collision courses, not just perform the simple "climb or descend" instructions current systems give a pilot.

That requires a flight-control computer powerful enough to handle complex algorithms. "What we're talking about for separation assurance is climb, descend, turn left, turn right," Walker says. "It's going to take a tremendous amount of modeling and simulation."

The result? Walker predicts manufacturers and operators will have to invest a lot of money and years of work to meet the pending FAA requirements.”

John Walker’s statements in the above article seem to be in line with how the FAA has always taken public safety at heart. Clearly Mr. Walker does not believe the technology has even been developed yet that will meet the FAA rule he believes will be forthcoming.

To sum up this part of the discussion; it is likely that at some point in the future unmanned aircraft will be operating in some capacity of populated cities, but I think we are many years away from local law enforcement agencies seeing it as a cost effective or necessary alternative to the manned police helicopter as we know it today. In short, if you are a young person hoping for a career in Airborne Law Enforcement, I wouldn’t worry myself over the idea of drones replacing police helicopters any time in the near future.

Check out what a small robotics lab in Pennsylvania, KMel Robotics, is doing with their swarming-flying bots.

Drones already operating over unpopulated areas in the U.S.

Just in case you thought I missed it, yes there are a number of full size drones already operating in the U.S., over unpopulated area. Oh, and some of them have already crashed.

Customs & Border Protection

In October of 2005 the Department of Homeland Security deployed a single Predator B drone for the purposes of border protection.

But the drone’s border duty was cut short when it crashed on April 25, 2006 when the ground based pilot experienced a lock up of the displays on the primary control console and switched to a backup console. The aircraft’s engine was inadvertently shut off and the plane descended and crashed near Nogales Arizona.

Today the Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine operate at least seven MQ-9 Predator B (Reaper) drones on both the northern and southern borders as well as a marine version.

According to information provided by U.S. Customs & Border Inspection the currently operate the following drones;

OAM (Office of Air & Marine) operates three Predator B’s from Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Arizona; and two from Grand Forks Air Force Base, in North Dakota.

OAM also operates a maritime variant UAS, called the Guardian. OAM’s two Guardian aircraft fly from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida; and Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas.

OAM expects to employ the Predator B throughout the border regions with command and control from a network of ground control stations across the country.

No question that the drone invasion is upon us. But hopefully the coming evolution of the skies will be reasonable and safe one.

Only two of the Lockeed Martin/Kaman Kmax autonomous helicopters were ever built. One has since crashed. Estimated per unit cost-over $20 million

Happy flying!

Medical Helicopter outfitted with soft lighting and soothing colors

University Hospital - Cincinnati's newest EC 145 medical helicopter

The soothing interior cabin of Cincinnati University Hospital's EC 145 medical helicopter

Peering into the crew cabin of this EC 145 medical helicopter on display at Heli-Expo 2013 almost made me want to tune in a jazz station and pour a glass of wine. I know colors can effect mood so I have no doubt a lot of thought was put into the lighting and color combo of the cabin interior with the purpose of providing a soothing environment for patients. 

N145UC is the an EC 145 air ambulance based out of University Hospital, Cincinnati OH. Photo- Metro Aviation

This EC 145 was completed by Metro Aviation of Shreveport Louisiana and is operated by Air Care Mobile Care in conjunction with the University of Cincinnati Hospital. In addition to this helicopter they operate a second EC 145 and a BK 117 which is the predecessor to the EC 145.   

A partial view of the glass cockpit and the state of the art panel

I don't know if they give interior design awards to helicopters, but if they did this one surely win an award. Here is one last look.  

The interior of this EC 145 air ambulance seems to welcome patients with open arms. 

Well this was just one helicopter within 1.5-million-sq-ft exhibit space and indoor static display that made up Heli-Expo 2013. Over 700 vendor displays in all. While not all were helicopters, many were. On to the next...

Oh the sound of spinning rotors- My return to Air Support

I recently visited LAPD's rooftop heliport, home of the Air Support Division.

Flying helicopters is not something you forget how to do

When a helicopter pilot has been out of the saddle for a while, there may be no sound more beautiful to his or her ears than the sound of spinning rotors three feet above your head.

 I left the San Diego Sheriff’s Air Support unit on August 16 2010 to start my new position as a patrol sergeant at the Fallbrook Station in northern San Diego County. In February of 2012 I transferred back to Valley Center, my old beat, as one of two patrol sergeants assigned to the station.

After nine months at Valley Center I received the call I had been waiting so patiently for and was notified of my impending transfer back to the air unit. It was a great feeling knowing that for the second time in my career I was about to leave patrol behind and re-enter the world of helicopter aviation.

Earlier this month I attended the Airborne Law Enforcement Association-Western Regional Safety Conference, which thanks to the genius mind of Western Regional Director Steve Roussell (LAPD), was held in Napa California. That is wine country just in case you were not sure.

During the seminar I was approached by Bryan Smith, ALEA’s Safety Program Manager and pilot for the Lee County Florida Sheriff’s Office, who introduced himself and mentioned that he had a copy of my book Catch the Sky on his desk at work. Bryan had nothing but positive things to say about the book, which truly means a lot to me coming from a fellow law enforcement pilot.

ALEA's Western Regional Safety Conference was held in Napa Ca., the center of California's wine insustry.

But then Bryan made the point that at the end of the book he was left wondering if I ever got back in the air unit. It was then the light went on and I realized I had not done any type of update since the release of the book in September of 2012; Hence this post “Oh the sound of spinning rotors.”

Effective Translational Lift- Oh yeah I remember what that is

It is good to be back at the controls of those wonderful – noisy flying machines called helicopters. I can attest, as someone who only flew twice in the two and a half years I was away, you do not forget the mechanics of how to fly a helicopter- not one bit. A little rusty sure, but all the moves were right there.

During my time as a patrol sergeant I told myself that I really did not miss it that much, but when the skids left the ground for the first time the excitement and thrill of flying came rushing back over me in an instant. I tried to hide the smile that had appeared on my face for fear that Kevin, ASTREA’s Chief Pilot, would think I was having too much fun and tell me to land. But I was back, and it was good.

As a sergeant in the air unit I don’t get to fly as much as the deputies- flight crews. But in ten months of backfilling for vacations, training, and sick days, I have managed to eke out about 200 hours of flight time. It is a good mix of flying the desk and flying helicopters. I also fill in as TFO when needed and recently got over a nice vehicle pursuit, followed by a lengthy foot pursuit in the City of Vista- as the TFO. And yes, the suspect was taken into custody! Many veteran LE pilots will tell you that the real fun is on the TFO side anyway.

There is always more to do it seems. Just this week I was “carded” by Cal-Fire/USFS for water dropping-bucket operations in the Bell 407. This just means that if the need arises I could fly on fires which are under the jurisdiction of Cal-Fire, or carry Cal-Fire personnel on my aircraft.

Haight & Ashbury in a helicopter blog post? Sorry no hippie photos here

For someone who has lived in California for 30 years, it’s hard to believe I had never visited the City of San Francisco. I had been close a few times; Monterey and Carmel but never the city. Now some would probably say that is a good thing. But I am an adventurous person so the trip to Napa (about 1 hour north of San Francisco) provided the perfect opportunity to not only visit San Francisco, but to drive over the Golden Gate Bridge, down Lombard St, and through the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

Now why the hell would I want to go out of my way to see the neighborhood that gave birth to the hippie movement and the likes of Charles Manson you ask? For no other reason than to say I did.

Me being a tourist. First visit to San Francisco after 30 years in the state.

I will say that driving in San Francisco was without a doubt the toughest place I have ever driven. Half the time you are driving on railroad tracks (Ok street car tracks), the streets have the craziest markings of anyplace I have ever been and you never know whether to obey the street signs or just do what every other car on the road is doing. And don’t even mention pedestrians- man those were some angry looks we got. The fact that we made it in and out of the city without a claim on our car insurance is just amazing. Somebody should create a special driving course just for driving in San Francisco.

Napa was just awesome too. Anytime you pack over 500 wineries into one exquisitely beautiful grape growing valley, well it just makes for a damn nice place to visit. We didn’t go to crazy but we did visit a couple of wineries and did our share of tasting.

LAPD and Slippery Shrimp

A few weeks back I got the opportunity to travel with our unit’s lieutenant and fire rescue sergeant up to the LAPD Air Support Division for the purposes of looking at some of their training programs.

For a refresher; LAPD Air Support is not only the largest municipal police air support division in the world (with about 19 helicopters), they operate from the largest rooftop heliport in the U.S., the LAPD Hooper Heliport. A big thanks to Steve and George up at LAPD for spending the time to show us their various training programs, but for also introducing us to a dish called slippery shrimp in nearby China Town. It may not sound appealing but I have to say it may just be the best shrimp dish I have ever had.

Some of LAPD's AS350B-2 A Stars lined up on the rooftop heliport, just north east of downtown LA.

In March of this year I also attended the HAI conference in Las Vegas. Ok, I really showed up for one day and walked the Expo for hours ogling over helicopters of every make and model. Some old and some new but all were shiny and pristine. I still have a camera full of photos that I have been threatening to do something with. So stand by for a long overdue photo centric blog post on Las Vegas and HAI.

Till then- Fly safe!

From the first page of Catch The Sky

Fontana PD R-66 Turbine Helicopter. (this is not in the book, I just put it here for dramatic effect:)

Fontana PD R-66 Turbine Helicopter. (this is not in the book, I just put it here for dramatic effect:)

SO YOU WANT TO FLAY A HELICOPTER? 

 

Helicopters are nothing more than 10,000 spinning parts flying in formation around an oil leak. 

 

When flying helicopters or airplanes, you can never have too much altitude or too much fuel, unless you are on fire. 

 

"The second engine is only there to take you to the scene of the crash when the first engine quits." -  Rocky Laws, a famous helicopter pilot with the San Diego Sheriff's Department, when asked about twin-engine helicopters. 

 

"You never want to be the best pilot, because then you will be called on to do the hardest or most dangerous missions. Second best is good, or somewhere in the middle, but never the best pilot:  -  Hans Kuwert, one of our mechanics. Hans flew helicopters off tuna boats for many years.

 

"FM -- F'n magic." 

--Rocky Laws answer to what made something work. Usually applied during discussions about difficult flying concepts or complicated pieces of scientific equipment. 

 

Aircraft mechanics refer to leaks on helicopters as "operational seepage." 

So who is this Billionaire Lady owner of MD Helicopters

Extreme Success- A One Woman Show!

Ms. Lynn Tilton, Billionaire owner of Mesa Arizona based MD Helicopters & Patriarch Partners

Ms. Lynn Tilton, Billionaire owner of Mesa Arizona based MD Helicopters & Patriarch Partners

Let’s face it, before Lynn Tilton pulled out her corporate check book and bought up MD Helicopters in 2005, few people in the male dominated helicopter industry had ever heard of her. That was soon to change however. Today, in 2013 if you fly an MD Helicopter for work or pleasure it is highly unlikely you have not at least heard the name Lynn Tilton.  

Most people are involved in aviation as a pilot, student pilot, mechanic, or perhaps even an employee of an aviation company. But one thing is for sure, there is a whole other side to the aviation world that many of us are not familiar with. That is the side of the wealthy business owner who can afford to buy ANY helicopter or airplane he or she wishes, or an entire company such as Ms. Tilton and MD Helicopters.

Jared Isaacman is another example of a young Billionaire that can afford to buy almost any aircraft he desires. In fact, by the time he was 30 years old he owned the following planes; G58 Beech Baron,Cessna Citation CJ2, Gulfstream G-100, Cessna Citation III, Czech L39 ZA fighter jet, Canadian T-33 fighter jet,
North American T-28C Trojan, and three A-4 Skyhawks.

But back to Lynn Tilton; so just how did this single, blonde, lady come to own an entire helicopter company? Here is her story.

Lynn Tilton-A Business woman powerhouse to be reckoned with

As millionaire success stories go, Lynn Tilton of Patriarch Partners LLC, is at the extreme upper end of the millionaire success ladder. In fact Ms. Tilton, whose true net worth is not widely reported or known, has passed from the millionaire status into the billionaire success category. Lynn Tilton has become somewhat of a business media darling in the past five years, as she burst seemingly out of nowhere to become a business finance mogul who now owns all or part of 74 companies. And these 74 companies with names like Rand McNally, Stila Cosmetics, Petry Media and Signature Styles-Spiegel/Newport News, brings in annual revenues of more than $8 Billion, and employ around 120,000 people.

All of these companies fall under the banner of Patriarch Partners, the private equity firm that she founded in 2000, and which she is the sole Principal. Lynn Tilton can now be counted among one of the richest self-made women in America, and Patriarch Partners is now the largest woman owned business in America.

And while Ms. Tilton has left little doubt that she is a business finance powerhouse to be reckoned with, she tends to turn heads for other reasons. Tilton doesn't mind letting people know that she is all woman. With her platinum blond hair, tight leather skirts, five inch stilettos, diamond necklaces and the occasional racy remark, Tilton has been mistaken by more than one person as perhaps an exotic dancer instead of the successful business entrepreneur that she is. Tilton makes no apologies for her sexy style of dress stating "I have to remain faithful to my inner truth."

Lynn Tilton Childhood & Education:

Born in the Bronx NY Tilton became a nationally ranked tennis player while still a teenager, often practicing in the middle of the night when court time was free. Tilton would later play tennis for Yale University where she completed a BA with honors in American Studies. As graduation neared Tilton had to make a decision on which career path to pursue. Having already lost her father, one of the great motivational forces in her life, Tilton had to go to friends for advice. Tilton soon began interviewing at investment banking firms of Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs and others. She was subsequently accepted into Morgan Stanley's analyst program; an early life accomplishment since she was the only candidate in her graduating class to be accepted into the program. Tilton's career in the finance industry had just been set.

Lynn Tilton the Business Woman

By the age of 25 Tilton had snapped up a degree from Columbia Business School and had moved on to positions with Goldman Sachs' corporate finance group-focusing on IPOs, and Merrill Lynch where she focused on leveraged buyouts. Married for a time, she was now a single mother of a 2 year old daughter and working 100 hour work weeks on Wall Street. Over the next nine or so years Tilton would develop not only an expert understanding but also a fascination for restructuring leveraged buyouts gone bad. She eventually took a position with Kidder Peabody where she specialized in distressed debt research and sales, and proprietary investments in distressed assets. After working five more years in the industry Tilton formed her own bank loan research and broker dealer firm, Papillion Partners. Papillion would be the foundation for launching Patriarch Partners in 2000 using solely her own funds.

In simpler terms, here is what Lynn Tilton and Patriarch Partners do today; they identify struggling companies which are headed for bankruptcy but are still salvageable, buy them, revive them, save jobs, and bring the companies back to being profitable American businesses. Tilton has become one America's strongest voices re-building the manufacturing base in the U.S. and putting Americans back to work. Over the last ten years Tilton and Patriarch Partners lay claim to saving some $250,000 American Jobs; A claim that Tilton is obviously proud of. One of Tilton's missions in life is pushing the U.S. to adopt a more coordinated government policy that better supports the country's manufacturers.

Lynn Tilton purchases MD Helicopters

One American company that Lynn Tilton bought around 2005 was the Mesa Arizona based helicopter manufacturer, MD Helicopters. The helicopter company originally founded by Howard Hughes, was spiraling towards bankruptcy when Mrs. Tilton stepped in. It might also be said that this is when the male half of America discovered Lynn Tilton. Who was this, sexy, single blonde billionaire who didn't show up to buy a single helicopter, but the whole company?

Tilton admits that bringing MD Helicopters back from the brink of failure has been one of her tougher challenges, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Speaking to reporters at Heli-Expo the week of March 7th 2011, Tilton announced that MD Helicopters is on the verge of securing a major Middle East contract for its MD 902 Explorer twin helicopter. Tilton stated that the deal would be for 50 to 75 helicopters to bring EMS services to six Middle Eastern countries along with 10 years of support. Tilton called it "divine intervention."

Lynn Tilton the Multi-Millionaire/Billionaire 

While Lynn Tilton owns a number of luxury homes around the country, her primary residence is on the Navesink River near Rumson Jew Jersey. From here she can commute by- helicopter of course- to her office in Manhattan, turning a would-be 2 hour commute by ground into a 12 minute commute by air.

When not walking the floors and talking to workers in any of her 74 companies, Ms. Tilton enjoys spending time at her other luxury homes in Florida, Arizona, Hawaii, and the Italian Villa In Lake Como Italy, where she is a neighbor to George Clooney.

As a woman operating at the highest sphere of the male dominated world of business finance, Mrs. Tilton often falls back on Carlos Castaneda's four essential characteristics for the warrior: Cunning, Sweetness, Patience, and Ruthlessness.

For any up and coming entrepreneurs looking to create wealth in America, people like Lynn Tilton not only point the way to becoming a millionaire, she has blazed a super highway for others to follow.

Moms, it's not enough to tell your daughters that they can grow up to be a doctor, a lawyer or even the president. Billionaire business financier with a fierce dedication to saving American jobs and companies should be on your list as well! Today Mrs. Tilton's daughter, now in her late 20s, is one of her deputies at Patriarch Partners.

If MD Helicopters is to survive long term, it will be due in part to the business savvy, hard work and dedication of one of America’s top female billionaires, Mrs. Lynn Tilton.

Book "Catch The Sky" Highlighted in Rotorcraft Pro Magazine

The first of what should be three articles- stories taken from the book Catch The Sky' The Adventures and Misadventures of a Police Helicopter Pilot- will be appearing in Rotorcraft Pro beginning with the June addition of the magazine. 

The first article titled Running Shootout is a true story of a running shootout between San Diego Police Officers and a wanted armed robbery suspect. The suspect, driving a black Honda Civic and the San Diego Police Officers pursuing him in their squad cars exchanged gunfire in 9 different locations as the pursuit wound it's way through residential streets and along the 54 freeway in the south county.  

At one point the pursuit entered the county area of Spring Valley which is where my partner and I picked it up and got overhead in our MD530F helicopter. Click on the link to read the story in Rotorcraft's online version then just click through until you get to The Running Shootout.  

The Role of the Modern Day Police Helicopter

What Can a Police Helicopter Do For You

If you have watched a movie with exciting chases of a criminal (or an innocent person wrongly framed in a crime), it is quite likely you have seen a helicopter involved in the process of tracking. Reality is not far removed from this, and police helicopters are often involved in search operations for the simple reason that they can help scan even an extensive area in just a few minutes, as compared to a search by road. Here are a few of the major functions that a police helicopter assists with.

Pursuits of Fleeing Persons

When suspects or criminals are on the run, tracking them on foot can be quite difficult and in some cases, even futile. Having a police helicopter working in coordination with a team on the ground can help save valuable time and also make it easier to successfully apprehend the person being pursued. Besides, the police helicopter can also collect video footage that can come in handy in prosecuting offenders.

Missing Persons Search

When a person is reported missing, a police helicopter may be pressed into action if it is suspected that the person is in grave danger. Thanks to the speed with which the aviation police teams can cover a large area, they are a natural choice for such situations. In recent times, police helicopters are becoming increasingly technology-driven and with the help of thermal imaging technology, it is possible to locate missing persons with greater ease and accuracy. Road truckers are an important resource for law enforcement agencies when it comes to looking for missing persons; and having police helicopter pilots liaise with truckers can make it easier to locate missing persons faster.

Public Safety Monitoring

Events such as major sports meets or the public address by an important government figure, or even a mass protest can quickly turn ugly when miscreants use the crowd to their advantage. Having a police helicopter with the ability to take pictures from the air proves a high degree of visibility that is not available to the ground force. Deploying a helicopter at such events is part of the routine security measures, especially when there is a strong likelihood of some disruptive elements causing danger.

Helicopters may be used to collect all relevant photographic evidence that can make it easier for subsequent investigations to pinpoint the cause of the trouble. Similarly, this information also helps the police force to prepare for future events with greater caution to avoid a repeat of such damage.

Besides helicopters, some police departments may also make use of airplanes when there is a need for unobtrusive surveillance from higher up in the sky.

Along with a pilot to handle the aircraft, there are other officers who use the equipment on-board and also keep in constant touch with law enforcement teams on the ground through communication channels on-board. Most police helicopter units are equipped with equipment for both daytime as well as night vision and, therefore, are equally effective at both times. Fitted with lighting, video equipment, and radio facilities, the police helicopter is a craft that can be very effective in law enforcement. This article was provided by Capital Solutions, Inc. a leader in truck financing

Magnum PI Helicopter Flies Again In Hawaii

A beautiful helicopter restored:

An MD500D Helicopter, a beautifully restored copy of the Magnum PI series helicopter.

What young boy ever watched an episode of Magnum PI and didn’t wish he had the lifestyle of Thomas Magnum, the fictitious Private Investigator who worked out of his boss’s luxury estate on the island of Oahu.  When he wasn’t zipping around in a Ferrari 308 GTS, Magnum (Tom Selleck) was being choppered around the islands by Theodore ”TC” Calvin in that beautiful MD500D helicopter with the unmistakable brown, yellow, and burnt orange paint scheme. All in the name of helping his clients, many of them beautiful women, and solving those perplexing cases he was hired to investigate, of course.

If you have ever dreamed of flying over tropical scenery, waterfalls and pristine beaches in the Magnum PI helicopter, there is a helicopter tour company in Hawaii who can now make that dream come true. Paradise Helicopters of Honolulu just accepted the keys to a magnificently restored MD500D model helicopter from Phoenix Heliparts of Phoenix Arizona.

The new Magnum PI helicopter:

The nose of the helicopter was autographed by Magnum PI actors Roger E Mosley and Larry Manetti.

The official ceremony took place on the floor of the HAI Heli-Expo in Las Vegas earlier this month (March, 2013). On hand for the ceremony were two of the original actors from the TV series, Roger E Mosley, who played TC- the helicopter pilot, and Larry Manetti, who played Rick Wright the manager of a posh private club and one of Magnum’s sidekicks. Oh, and Rick was also TC’s Marine Corps door gunner in Vietnam.  Both actors autographed the nose of the newly restored Magnum helicopter, which is true in every detail to at least one of the helicopters that was used in the filming, to include the tail number, N58253.

The refurbished helicopter was first certificated by the FAA in 1978, and was reportedly a Honolulu Police Helicopter before it was sent to Arizona to be transformed back into the Magnum PI helicopter.

As a pilot with 1500 hours in MD500 helicopters, (thank you San Diego Sheriff’s Department) you can imagine my excitement when I spotted this aircraft on the floor of Heli-Expo. Sure there were countless other helicopters to look at; multi-engine, multi-passenger helicopters of every shape, size, color scheme and manufacturer but in my mind this little helicopter stole the show.

Every inch of the helicopter has been restored to Mint condition. 

By all appearances it had just rolled off of the assembly line as a “spankin” new helicopter. I am well aware that the signature round nose generally indicates an older ‘D’ or ‘C’ model Hughes 369/MD500, but for a few minutes I wasn’t sure if MD was still building round nose helicopters. The helicopter was pristine inside and out, to include the engine compartment and its 250-C20R turboshaft engine.

Since it will be used for tours back in Hawaii the helicopter is outfitted with a Flightcell DZMx SATCOM system. The DZMx is billed as the world’s smallest, lightest, and smartest SATCOM for voice, data and aircraft tracking.

Paradise Helicopters:

Paradise Helicopters has been in business since 1997 and currently offers helicopter tours on the Big Island from Kona and Hilo, as well as from the Island of Oahu. On the Big Island (Island of Hawaiʻi) the most popular destinations are the regions volcanos and the hundreds of waterfalls. In fact Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Hawaii’s number one attraction. Here you will find Kilaueu Volcano which has been erupting continuously since 1983. Paradise Helicopters operate a fleet of Bell 407 helicopters which have seating for 1 pilot and six passengers, and the MD500 helicopters have seating for 1 pilot and up to four passengers.

The best light helicopter ever built:

The MD500D's egg shape cabin and what is essentially a built in roll bar make it a very tough little helicopter.

If you can’t tell by now, it is my humble opinion that the MD500D Helicopter is quite possibly the best light helicopter that has ever been manufactured. That also means it is one of the safest small helicopters ever built; again just my opinion but that’s for a different article. If you are going to Hawaii and you want to feel like Magnum PI for an hour or so, track down Paradise Helicopters and their beautifully restored Magnum edition helicopter.

Where is the real Magnum PI helicopter today:

So where is the original Magnum PI helicopter? There is evidence that at least one of them is still in service in Kentucky owned by a company that sub-contracts to an electric company. There are a number of comments in online forums from pilots who claimed to have flown the aircraft in Kentucky, and have observed the log book entries when it was used form filming on the Magnum PI series in Hawaii. Another one may have crashed during unrelated filming, but it is not the helicopter crash that was caught on film and featured on several TV shows.

Police Helicopter Pilot Has Moved To A New Platform

If you have noticed a few changes here at Police Helicopter Pilot, it's because Squarespace.com, the company & software I use for this website, recently came out with a complete remake of their system. This version, known as V6 is not just an upgrade over V5 but really a complete new system. The difference will be a lot more flexibility for the blogger/website builder in the look and feel of the website, as well as how information is presented. I expect the look of the website to change as I play with it and tweak it a little more.

I am making plans to stop by the HAI Heli-Expo in Las Vegas on the 6th. It will be my first time so I am looking forward to it. I am told that it is so big it's hard to see in one day, but I am going to try. If you see me wondering around be sure to say hi! 

Can This Cutting Edge Gyrocopter Find It's Way Into Law Enforcement Aviation?

New Law Enforcement Gyrocopter Under Development In NZ.

Whether you are a helicopter pilot or just a serious rotor wing fan you most likely already possess a basic understanding of gyroplane (or gyrocopter) technology.  If you do then you know that not only did the gyroplane precede the helicopter, but it was the gyroplane that gave birth to the helicopter.    And, if you are a helicopter pilot then you have already accepted the premise that gyroplane flight principles are sound, since it is this same state of auto-rotation that you hang your life on if and when the engine quits.  The gyrocopter or gyroplane is already in a state of auto-rotation so there is not dropping the collective and throwing in a bunch of right pedal.  You simply focus on looking for your spot where you are going to set it down.

The XTRE composite built, diesel powered, gyrocopter with Orange County Sheriff paint scheme.But, if the word gyrocopter stirs up images of seemingly dangerous flying contraptions, piloted by wild eyed- over the hill pilots from out of the way air strips, then you are not alone.  That is the perception by much of the flying community.  Even to discuss gyrocopters in the company of other helicopter pilots is likely to cause a serious chuckle if not outright laughter.  But if the gyrocopter is based on sound and relatively safe principles of flight, then why has it been relegated almost exclusively to the home built, experimental crowd? 

There is really only one reason why gyrocopters and gyroplane technology have been pushed to the back corners of aviation.  Because from the moment Igor Sikorsky perfected the vertical lift helicopter as we know it today, gyrocopters became outdated and old school.   All major research, development and investment since that time have taken place in the helicopter industry.  Gyroplanes quickly became the forgotten technology.   For that reason there are no FAA certified, production gyrocopters being sold in the United States of America today.  One could certainly make the argument that if there was a demand for these aircraft, then an aviation company somewhere would invest the money in the certification process and start producing and selling them.

 

Is Gyrocopter Technology Set To Make A Comeback?      

Is it possible we have reached a point where helicopters have become so expensive to purchase and operate, that the more affordable gyrocopter can make a comeback?  If there was a certified production gyrocopter, with a financially stable company standing behind it, would city or county governments and law enforcement agencies be willing to take a chance on it?     

There is a small startup aviation company in New Zealand who is gambling that they will. But before we jump into this new aircraft that is on the drawing boards, let’s take a serious look at who could potentially benefit from the significantly more affordable gyro technology.

I won’t rehash all the differences between helicopters and gyrocopters, but for the benefit of some of our younger readers let’s cover the basics.

Helicopters can hover, lift off vertically, fly forward, backward or sideward, and land without runways.  Gyrocopters do not hover, and must stay in forward flight much like an airplane.  With current jump technology many gyrocopters can lift off vertically then immediately go into forward flight, so that a standard runway is not necessary.  Helicopters have a powered main rotor that pulls the helicopter through the air, while the gyrocopter has an unpowered main rotor in a constant state of autorotation, and is thrust through the air by a pusher propeller mounted behind the aircraft.  

While helicopters enjoy many advantages such as the ability to do precision hover work, they are also very expensive to operate, and require a high level of skill to fly and stay proficient in.  They also have a tail rotor, what some have called the helicopter’s Achilles heel. 

Gyrocopters on the other hand are much cheaper to operate because they have far less moving parts and critical components.  Some would argue that they are actually safer because they do not have a tail rotor and are not susceptible to the condition known as LTE or Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness.  They are also a much more stable platform from which to work.

Looking at it from strictly a law enforcement perspective any agency that spends the bulk of their patrol time orbiting police calls over major population centers would be a potential customer or operator.  In contrast, any agency that regularly conducts search and rescue operations, or that routinely lands off field, would probably not be a good candidate. 

But ponder this question for a moment.  How many city police departments would consider starting up their own air unit if they could acquire a certified production gyrocopter at a fraction of the cost of a helicopter, and operate it for as little as $50 to $70 an hour?   I would venture to guess that a significant number of cities, not only in America but around the world, would be open to exploring the benefits of an air unit with these kinds of numbers. 

There’s a group of forward thinking aviation experts in New Zealand who are betting on the same thing and are moving forward on a two place diesel powered gyrocopter designed specifically for the law enforcement market. 

  

The XTRE Police Gyrocopter:

The ‘XTRE’ is not a converted civilian aircraft; in fact there are no immediate plans to even offer the aircraft to the civilian market. This gyrocopter is being specifically designed for the Law Enforcement- Military roles it will undertake. It will carry the necessary FAA certificates that will it make acceptable to every Law Enforcement operator in the world, placing it in a certificated class rather than the experimental class.

The developers stress the XTRE is not a replacement for the helicopter, rather an aircraft that can work alongside it as a cost effective alternative.  The XTRE will be able to perform the vast majority of the patrol-surveillance-traffic monitoring roles currently carried out by helicopters. The developers firmly believe the pilot remains core to conducting effective air operations, thus allowing the XTRE to go places and deliver missions, which a UAV simply cannot go. “In our opinion, the situational awareness of two flight crew above an event is unmatched compared to that of a person sitting behind a screen many miles away from that same event” says the developer.

The XTRE will be built using the latest in carbon fiber-Kevlar honeycomb composite technology, producing an amazingly strong, durable and lightweight airframe matching the best of any helicopter design. The XTRE is a large aircraft standing 10ft tall and 18ft long, with it’s size comparable to a Robinson R44. This size provides the two person flight crew with a big, comfortable environment in which to work. The pilot cockpit will feature IFR, ‘Glass panel’ avionics, digital engine/systems monitoring panels and Nav/radio systems to client requirements.

The rear cockpit is set up as a complete surveillance monitoring center. The TFO systems operator has large flat screen panels to monitor the information displayed from the on board cameras.  Industry standard radio systems will enable communication with ground units, relaying of live video imaging to ground stations, data transfer and storage within onboard computers will also be provided. The modern UAV market makes it possible for the XTRE to utilize the sophisticated surveillance equipment carried onboard such aircraft which are extremely efficient, very compact and lightweight.

But the benefits don’t stop there.  The XTRE will be powered by a lightweight Turbocharged Diesel engine making it extremely fuel efficient and able to use Bio-fuels, producing a minimal carbon footprint. One of the main features of this aircraft is the efforts being made to keep it quiet, so that when airborne it will have an extremely low noise signature.

A special engine exhausts muffler system, reduction gearbox, and a unique New Zealand designed propeller all help to cut noise significantly. The three (3) high inertia composite blades are attached to an adjustable pitch rotor head allowing near vertical takeoff and landing and very smooth in-flight characteristics. Also in keeping with its role, the landing gear is no nonsense- high impact absorbing, allowing for landing on rough un-prepared surfaces or hard landings without damage.

The XTRE will offer a viable, purpose built alternative to the use of both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for those agencies whose mission profile matches that of the XTRE.

And just in case you are wondering what the Kiwi’s know about building aircraft, you might want to take a glance at the growing and cutting edge aviation industry in New Zealand.  Here are just a few facts:

 

New Zealand Aviation Industry Facts:

  • Over 1,000 aircraft have been manufactured in New Zealand.
  • New Zealand's aviation industry generated $9.7 billion in revenue in 2009, with $5.6 billion from domestic activities and $3.8 billion from exports, and has more than 1,000 aviation-related organizations employing 23,525 staff who are paid wages and salaries estimated at $1.3 billion.
  • The industry is conservatively forecast to grow to $12.6 billion by 2015.
  • New Zealand Aluminium Smelters supplies very high grade aluminium for use in the aerospace industry including on the wings of Airbus’s new 380 super jumbo wings.
  • Strengths in the use of advanced composite materials that first evolved in New Zealand’s world-leading marine industry are reaching new levels of sophistication in the aviation industry. Falcomposite has developed a fully aerobatic sports aircraft kit made up of about 20 structural components that are fast and easy to assemble.
  • Based at Ardmore in Auckland, Airwork NZ is one of only three companies worldwide approved to overhaul Eurocopter gearboxes and is an approved Honeywell maintenance centre for small turbine engines. The fixed wing division provides maintenance for Fairchild Metros, Fokker F27s and Boeing 737s.
  • New Zealand is home to both the P-750 XSTOL Turbine powered, FAA certified, 10 seat utility aircraft, as well as the revolutionary composite built KC518 Turbine powered helicopter recently unveiled at Osh Kosh.

Don’t bother looking for an XTRE Gyrocopter website just yet, because you won’t find one.  At this point the developers are focused on keeping the project moving forward.  I must say that I am very excited about this aircraft and the potential it offers to Law Enforcement around the world.  Perhaps one day I will be able to file a first-hand report on its flight characteristics.

Inquiries related to the XTRE can be directed to xtre@xtra.co.nz

 

The Newspaper Interview That Never Happened:

cropped_PR_sml.jpg

I occassionaly get request to do interviews from reporters throughout the U.S.  Generally it is after their local police helicopter is in the news for some reason, or is on the financial chopping block.  It probably doesn't surprise you that many of these interviews can now be done over email.  Although, many reporters still like to talk to you one on one. 

I recently answered a number of questions from a reporter in the midwest, via email.  After spending an hour and a half carefully answering each question, I hit the send button and haven't heard a word since. 

But wait, I have a Blog!  So all is not lost.  Here is the interview questions, and my answers: 

Why are you interested in police helicopters? Are you a pilot?

I spent five years and four months in the San Diego County Sheriff’s air support unit commonly referred to as ASTREA (Aerial Support to Regional Enforcement Agencies).  After working the jails for 4 years and patrolling the streets for 15 years, the air unit was a welcome change.  I had developed an interest in flying and aviation, but had no real experience.  After interviewing three different times over five years, I was selected and began working as an observer or “Tactical Flight Officer.”  After 18 months in the unit I began pilot training.  Read more about learning how to fly helicopters. The department paid for my entire commercial helicopter rating.  I spent the remainder of the time in the unit as a pilot.  I only left the unit because I promoted to sergeant.  I hope to return to the unit one day as a supervisor. 

Did you start the Police Helicopter Pilot website?

I wanted to try my hand at blogging and was researching many different topics to blog about.  I kept coming back to law enforcement helicopters.  I did a search on the phrase “police helicopter pilot” and found that the number one hit in Google was on a helicopter website that was very negative toward police pilots.  In fact this page, which was the top hit in Google, very directly stated that most police pilots were dangerous and not trained properly.  The back story to that is that in professional helicopter pilot circles there has always been some disdain toward Law Enforcement Pilots. The reason is that the vast majorities of police agencies take their veteran street cops and train them to be helicopter pilots.  Professional helicopter pilots have always seen these as jobs that they should have. This topic police vs. professional pilots has raged for many years in online message boards.

Most large police agencies will tell you that over the years, they have found that it just works better to take a cop and make them a helicopter pilot, than to take a helicopter pilot and make them a cop.  The dirty little secret is that virtually every agency in the early 70s launched their air units by doing just that; hiring civilian pilots and making them cops. They found out that it was not the best approach for them.  It most likely had little to do with pilot skill since most civilian pilots do have more experience and even higher pilot ratings.  If I had to guess I would say that most agencies found that they had better luck selecting from their own employees, who had already worked within their agency for years.  They already knew these officer’s reputations, attitudes, work ethic, decision making abilities, Etc.

There are some agencies who opt to hire civilian pilots and pair them with a sworn observer, and these arrangements generally work out well.

So not only was the top hit in Google very negative toward police pilots, I could find very little information on exactly how one becomes a police pilot.  I started the website to fill this void, and put a positive spin on Law Enforcement Aviation. 

How many police agencies in America have an air support unit?

I would say that virtually every large agency, police or sheriff, has some type of an air support unit, most of which are helicopters.  I guess the question would be what constitutes a large agency?  I would also say that a significant portion of medium size agencies have some type of an air support unit, even if it is a single helicopter, operated on a part time basis. 

Chicago PD is an example of a large agency that actually went without a police helicopter for almost 10 years.  They originally had an air support unit but closed it down years ago due to budget cuts.  It was re-activated about 3-4 years ago. 

Many police and sheriff’s departments over the years were able to acquire surplus military helicopters from the US military through a special program.  A number of smaller and medium size departments who otherwise would have never been able to afford an air unit, were able to launch small part time units.  Many of those agencies already had former military helicopter pilots in their ranks, so they were able to save money in that area as well.

There are a handful of agencies that operate fixed wing aircraft only, but the vast majority operate helicopters. 

How are police helicopters most often used?

This will vary based on the agency, and often the size of the agency.  We know helicopters are expensive to operate, so typically the larger cities and counties have more flexibility in how they can use their air assets. As an example, our agency, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department utilizes its air unit to support patrol units on the ground every day. 

Primarily this would be responding to crimes in progress, both felony and misdemeanor, but also missing persons.  This could be missing children, the vast majority of which are found quickly, and missing elderly such as Alzheimer’s patients.  In densely populated areas missing person calls can take a lot of time away from patrol personnel on the ground.  Very often, through onboard tools such as the PA, the helicopter can locate the missing child or person fairly quickly, freeing up the patrol units to go back to other duties.

In our county, our helicopters also get a lot of use in the search and rescue arena.  We respond to these calls almost daily, somewhere in the back country.  They are also used in marijuana eradication missions, both to find the illegal marijuana grows, and then to haul out, or “long line” the pot out of rugged areas once it has been cut down by officers. 

Where and how do police helicopters work most effectively?

Helicopters are another tool on the law enforcement tool belt.  If an agency can afford them, they are a great tool to have.  There are many violent criminals who are taken off the streets sooner than they otherwise would be, because a police helicopter was in the right place at the right time.

There is no question that law enforcement helicopters are most effective when they are already airborne, and when they are within close proximity to location of the crime or incident.  In that sense they are no different than an officer on the ground in a patrol car.  The shorter their response time to a crime, the greater chance they will have of catching the offender. 

The primary difference is that the air crew can generally search and scan an area many times greater, and in a fraction of the time that an officer on the ground can.  If a law enforcement air crew can get over a crime scene while the crime is still occurring, and the perpetrator is still on scene, the chances of the suspect being taken into custody go up tremendously.  Often, the helicopter can arrive on scene even before ground units and can provide critical information to the responding units, to include suspect’s location and or direction of travel.

Are more departments/offices adding or cutting their helicopter units?

Over the past three to four years we have definitely seen a number of agencies shut down their air units due to budget cuts.  Most of these appeared to be smaller to medium size agencies that just did not have the budgets that the larger agencies enjoyed. However, things seemed to have stabilized in the last year or so.  I am really not hearing of too many air units getting shut down these days.  I think most agencies that were going to have to close their air support units have already done so.

I am seeing more agencies that are migrating toward less expensive ways to keep some sort of air support unit.  At least one agency in California has opted to go with a small, fixed wing- two seat airplane which is licensed under the FAA’s new light sport category.  Another agency in the Midwest was testing a two seat Gyro-Copter under a government test program.  Gyro-Copters are far less expensive to operate than helicopters, but there are no factory built, certified (by the FAA) Gyro-Copters available, only experimental. 

The vast majority of Law Enforcement Air Support Units still use the helicopter as their primary patrol aircraft. 

Two San Diego Sheriff Air Crew Members Receive Governor's Medal Of Valor Award

Deputies Scott Bligh and Gary Kneeshaw were among 13 California Public Safety Members to be awarded the Governor's Public Safety Medal of Valor on Wednesday September 14th, 2011.  Bligh and Kneeshaw earned the recognition from Governor Brown for one of the most daring law enforcement helicopter rescues in recent memory.  On August 21st, 2010 battled heavy smoke, flames, and embers blowing into the cockpit to rescue two trapped mountain climbers off the side of El Cajon Mountain near El Capitan Reservoir in San Diego County. 

The female climber was picked off the side of the mountain first in a "Toe In" maneuver after Deputy Kneeshaw climbed out of the helicopter and placed her in his seat.  Kneeshaw stayed behind with the male climber waiting for his partner and helicopter to return.  During the wait Kneeshaw and the male climber were almost overrun by fire and had to run across the face of the mountain to evade the flames.

Deputy Bligh fought through reduced visibility, smoke, and burning embers to fly back in and locate Kneeshaw and the male climber in their new location on the mountain.  At one point during the pick up Bligh received a low rotor rpm warning in the cockpit, indicating that the engine could be losing power. Bligh quickly recognized that the engine was still creating power and the momentary low rotor rpm was a result of the extreme flight conditions and demands on the helicopter.

After outrunning flames once, Deputy Kneeshaw made a quick decision to ride the skid of the helicopter out of the hot zone, a technique he had never practiced and had never trained for.  After loading the male climber into the front seat Kneeshaw stepped onto the skid and shouted at Bligh to take off.  With flames once again threatening the tail of the helicopter Bligh and Kneeshaw flew the remaining climber off the mountain and to safety.  You can read a more complete article on the rescue here.  

Newark NJ Launches Police Aviation Unit

We often assume that every large city in America has a police aviation unit of some type, but that assumption is not always correct.  Who knew that Newark New Jersey has been without a Police Air Ops unit, at least for the past 5 years or so.  In all honesty I haven't had time to research whether or not they have ever had an air unit, but this Friday marked the maiden flight of their police helicopter, a refurbished OH-58 military surplus helicopter.

Newark PD took possession of the bird in 2006 but until now did not have the money to retrofit it with the necessary police equipment.  Things such as police radios, spot lights and P.A. systems are basic necessities if you are going to be at all effective as an aerial support platform.  However, the department was recently able to use Homeland Security funding to bring the helicopter up to current law enforcement standards, to include a video-camera system.

Chicago PD was without a police aviation unit for about 10 years.  It was re-established about 2 years ago with a Bell Jet Ranger, and a Bell Jet Long Ranger.  The OH-58 helicopter is the military version of the Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.  

Still searching for a photo of Newark's new Police Helicopter. 

Man Who Shot At Escondido Police Officers and ASTREA Helicopter Sentenced To 34 Years

A man driving a stolen car, and in possession of stolen guns, who shot at Escondido Ca. Police Officers and the San Diego Sheriff's ASTREA Helicopter was recently sentenced to 34 years in State Prison.  While no officers or deputies were injured in the pursuit and shooting, Escondido Police Officer Ryan Banks uniform was grazed by a bullet, just missing his neck.  The pursuit began when an officer responded to a simple "suspicious person" call, of a subject who had been sitting in a vehicle in a neighborhood for several hours.  That man was Eric Anthony Pomatto 27.

Pomatto was in a stolen car and was in possession of two weapons he found in the car when he stole from a Starbucks in Chula Vista earlier that day.  Pomatto was essentially lying in wait for the father of his ex-girlfriend, whom he planned to kill.  During the pursuit Pomatto fired numerous rounds from both a shotgun and 9 MM pistol.  Some of those rounds were fired at the San Diego Sheriff's helicopter with Deputy-Pilots Gene Palos and Darren Dollard on board.  

You can read more on this story here.

AS350 Corporate Helicopter Does Rescue "Toe In" At 12000' In Colorado

AS350 performing a Toe In at 12,300' in the Colorado Rockies, Photo Via KVAL.comA privately owned Eurocopter AS350 was called upon by a local Sheriff's Commander to assist in a rescue in the Colorado Rockies last week.  What makes this story amazing is the photo of the Astar Helicopter Pilot performing a Toe In with this particular helicopter.  The photo was snapped by someone on the ground as the helicopter came in to drop off the San Miguel Sheriff's Commander- who is also a paramedic.

I say it is an amazing photo because I honestly didn't think you could do much of a Toe In with a Eurocopter, based on how far back their skids set on the airframe.  Compare the skids on an MD500 with those on a Eurocopter, and you will see that the front of the skids on the MD500 are almost out in front of the entire airframe.  This along with the shorter- 5 bladed rotor disc, makes the MD500 or MD530F an ideal platform for this maneuver.  The Eurocopter AS350 does come with a lot more power however, making operations at 12,000' a bit easier.

Note how much further forward the front of the skids are in relation to the cockpit on this MD530F.In this case hiker Joe Yearm suffered a compound fracture just below the knee as he was descending from the 14,159' El Diente Peak.  For unknown reasons Yearm was hiking alone, and in the dark, when he fell 20' into a snow field breaking his leg.  Yearm was able to crawl to a nearby slope where he was discovered by two other hikers a few hours later.  One of these hikers was in possession of a personal locator beacon which he used to notify authorities of the injured hiker.  

On Sunday Pilot PJ Hunt was flying the AS350 helicopter for his employer Heli-Dunn based out of Phoenix Oregon, when he was hailed over the radio by Commander Eric Burg of the San Miguel Sheriff's Department.  Burg advised Hunt of the pending rescue and asked if he could assist.  Hunt quickly obtained permission from his supervisors and within a few minutes was landing at Burg's house to pick him up.  

Hunt and Burg flew to the coordinates sent out by the locator beacon and eventually located three people on a steep rock strewn slope at 12,300'.  Hunt performed the Toe In landing long enough for Burg to climb out of the helicopter and provide medical attention to the injured hiker.  Burg and the two uninjured hikers then carved out a slightly better landing site for Hunt, where he was able to perform a one skid landing in the Astar.  The one skid landing allowed Yearm to be loaded directly into the helicopter.  Yearm was then flown to a waiting ambulance in Telluride Co.  

The AS350 pictured above is registered to T. Scott Dunn Construction Inc., out of Medford Oregon.

You can read the full story here.

American Eurocopter Showcases Accomplishments At ALEA New Orleans

The AStar family of helicopters has become the standard in airborne law enforcement. It is a reliable, high performance platform that has been proven throughout the U.S. law enforcement community. In service with agencies like U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Los Angeles Police Department, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, California Highway Patrol and many other federal, state and local agencies, there are now more than 200 AStars in law enforcement roles in the United States.  Read more of this story.

Robber Convicted In 2009 Jewelry Store Heist: Sheriff's Helicopter Assisted On Call

I remember this call well.  I was the TFO on board the helicopter but I can't seem to remember who was flying on this day, perhaps Scott Sterner.  It was a sunny October morning in 2009 when we were called to assist Carlsbad Police Department with a jewelry store robbery.  

Carlsbad is a coastal city that enjoys a pretty low crime rate anyway.  As we arrived I was directed to the jewelry store by officers on the ground.  The store was the end unit of a rather long but quaint commercial building in the downtown area of Carlsbad known as the village.  

The primary Carlsbad PD officer requested that we check the roof since the robber seemed to emerge from the lady's restroom to commit his crimes, and then disappeared back into the lady's restroom after robbing the two employees who had just opened up shop.  Sure enough, peering through my stabilized binoculars I observed a definite hole in the roof of the business, not far from the back door.

The robber had been wearing a full mask and gloves, so there was very little description for law enforcement to go on at the time.  We did however conduct some PA announcements in the area in an attempt to find potential witnesses, who may have seen anything or anyone suspicious prior to the robbery.   

A short time later officers confirmed that there was a hole in the ceiling of the women's restroom.  A few minutes after that they announced that a mask, an airsoft gun, a bag and jewelry were found in the crawl space between the ceiling and the roof.  We stayed on scene for some time while officers cleared the crawl space, and surrounding businesses.  I could see why the robber might think it was smart to leave his gun and mask behind, but why would he leave some of the jewels behind?  Had officers arrived on scene while the suspect was still in the roof, causing him to abandon his loot?  Ultimately it would be DNA from the mask that would convict him.

Eventually it was determined that the suspect was most likely out of the area.  With nothing else for us to do, we went back into service and flew away thinking we had probably heard the last about the case. 

Imagine my surprise this morning when I ran across this article published just today in the San Diego Reader.  It seems our robber friend had a long history of similar criminal conduct.  So much so that the judge found it acceptable to sentence him to 50 years to life in prison for this robbery.  It's a great read!