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.
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ALEA's 39th Annual Conference & Exposition, The Perfect Mix of Old City Charm & High Tech Helicopters
Savanna Ga and the Savanna-Chatham Metro Police Department were host to the Airborne Law Enforcement Association's Annual Conference and Expo this year, which took place July 23rd thru 25th.
The chance to enjoy some southern food & hospitality, mixed with the charm of America's first planned city and the latest in law enforcement helicopter aviation was all I needed to exchange the west coast for the east coast, if only for a few days.
The economy definitely reared it's ugly head as I overheard one exhibitor speaking about the number of individual door passes which had been assigned. It seems the number of people registered as exhibitors out numbered the people registered as attendees, by almost a hundred. On a personal note, my attendance did not involve the expenditure of any county funds. While the desire to learn and improve ones self is admirable, this trip would not find me sitting in any classrooms.
No, my goal was to hit the floor of the exposition hall and stick my head and nose into as many cockpits as possible, while at the same time exchanging information and ideas with other law enforcement air crews from across the country. I was not to be dissapointed. Here are just a few of the highlights in my humble, low time, pilot opinion.
Osceola County Sheriff's Dept.'s Re-Furbished OH-58 Helicopter:
Now you may wander how I can consider a re-furbished OH-58 as one of the highlights of the show when there are plenty of high-tech, fresh off the assembly lines, rotor-craft in the same room. The answer is simple. It's nice to see someone get it right.
You see in law enforcement aviation the tactical flight officer (TFO) is the star of the show. The goal of the entire helicopter package, the pilot, all of the electronics, etc., is to put the TFO in the right place, at the right time, with the right equipment to assist the officers on the ground and hopefully get the bad guy in custody. But a look into the cockpit of many L.E. helicopters around the country would cause you to scratch you head and wander if the TFO was just an after thought. No so with this helicopter.
One look at the exterior of this aircraft and you begin to think that Bell Helicopter must have re-started their Bell Jet Ranger production lines. From a strictly visual perspective this helicopter holds it's own with every helicopter in the building. But let's be honest, fancy paint doesn't help the FTO do his job. One look in the cockpit and you get the idea that someone at the Osceola Sheriff's Department had their priorities straight when this job was bid out.
If you are a pilot your eyes might first be drawn to the new glass panel situated in front of the pilot's seat. But if you are a TFO who has spent hours with your head down looking into a flir monitor, then you will no doubt take notice of the gargantuan monitor situated on the panel directly in front of the TFO. This is without a doubt the largest monitor I have ever seen in any law enforcement helicopter. I think the friendly Osceola Deputy Sheriff indicated that it was a 15" monitor. Whatever the numbers are, it is almost twice the size of many monitors currently mounted in many police helicopters around the country.
My amateur photo does not do this cockpit justice. But when you start comparing the size of the FLIR/moving map monitor with other parts of the panel, you start getting the idea that it is huge, (more photos will be posted soon in a photo gallery.)
Osceola County is situated in central Florida with Kissimmee being the county seat. The Osceola County Sheriff's Department operates a total of 3- Bell Oh-58s, along with 1- Cessna 206 and 1- Beech BE58 aircraft.
Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS- Highway Patrol) claims most advanced light single:
As I roamed around the exhibit hall, from helicopter to helicopter to be exact, I came across the following announcement from Texas DPS and Metro Aviation.
Metro Aviation of Shreveport Louisiana, and Texas DPS is laying claim to having outfitted the "most technologically advanced, light single engine, law enforcement helicopter in the world." While I don't have a long list of advanced features to recite, I did notice an integrated satellite phone which the crew can no doubt access via their headsets/helmets, and I noted the additional moving map display near the pilot's right knee. Clearly features that would enhance the mission capabilities of most law enforcement helicopters.
This small moving map screen (pictured below) provided by Aero Computers is positioned to the lower right of the panel, near the pilots knee. Very nice!
Texas DPS operates 9- Eurocopter AS350s and 5- Cessna 206 fixed wing aircraft.
Houston Police Department takes delivery of new MD500E helicopter:
Coming from an agency myself that flies MD500s, any new MD500 helicopter is worth spending a little time with. MD Helicopters had two new aircraft on display, one of which was being delivered to the Houston PD Air Support Division immediately after it's time spent on the floor of the expo hall.
I was wrong however to presume that a couple of lucky Houston PD pilots would get the opportunity to fly the new ship from Savanna back to Houston. Delivery of the ship by factory pilot(s) however must have been part of the purchase package. Whatever the reason, it would have made for some excellent cross country time for some police pilots.
There was a delivery ceremony complete with champagne, wherein ALEA President Dan Schwarzbach (a Houston PD pilot) officially accepted the new helicopter from MD. I am not sure what the snafu was, but there was a very un-happy Savanna Convention Center official, and a whole mess of champagne that had to be either drank quickly or poured out. As a fellow pilot I did my best to help out with that situation.
It seems that Houston PD has also seen the benefit of giving the pilot his or her own small moving map screen. Note the pop up screen in front of the pilot, in the below photo.
The new helicopter is outfitted not only with the latest in FLIR and moving map technology, but with new Meeker Mounts in which to secure the new equipment.
Houston Police operate a number of MD500 helicopters, this one is just the latest edition.
Finally, I would be remiss to talk about Savanna and not mention Vic's On The River Restaurant and Bar.
(The back of this building can be see in the top photo, below the dome, and above the river boat.)
Situated in an old cotton warehouse, the rooms in this building occupied by Vic's On The River, also served as military offices in the Civil War, as evidence of the battle map discovered drawn on the wall during renovation. The map is now preserved in place, for all to see, by 21st century technology. Vic's On The River had the perfect blend of old charm, incredible southern food, wine, music and ambience, and one of the nicest bar tenders we came across. If you are ever in Savanna you would do well to stop in.