Police Helicopter Pilot

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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.

Final Report On 2009 New Mexico State Police Helicopter Crash Is Published

The long awaited report on the New Mexico State Police- fatal helicopter crash (June 9th, 2009) was released late last month by the NTSB.  In many ways there are no real surprises in it.  It was expected that the NTSB would find fault with the pilot's decision to take off from the remote mountain landing zone, while surrounded by inclement weather and darkness.  I don't say that to be harsh on the pilot, it was just obvious that they would find fault with it.  But the report goes much deeper than that, examining every aspect of the New Mexico State Police aviation program, the pilot's duties within the State Police, sleep habits, etc.  Essentially no stone was left unturned.  The aviation community and particularly the police aviation community should welcome such thorough investigations.

It seems so redundant to say that we must learn from others mistakes, because that is what we say each and every time we discuss one of these cases.  But it is emphatically true.  To not study, learn, and discuss incident's such as this would be simply unprofessional. 

Each of us make mistakes on a daily or weekly basis, whether flying or on the ground, that potentially could cost us our lives.  The annual death toll on our nations highways proves this to be true.  Hence the old saying "There but for the grace of God go I."  It is in that vein that we look at this report.

The number of lessons that can be drawn from it are almost to numerous to mention.  One of the most glaring however is that this rescue mission into high altitude rugged terrain, in deteriorating weather conditions, in a complex aircraft, with darkness closing in, was undertaken essentially as a single pilot operation, and without the help of NVGs.  Yes there was another officer on board.  But that officer was an un-trained air crew member who had never been up in New Mexico State's police helicopter before that fateful day.  Be assured, one cannot place any blame at his feet.  The vast majority of patrol officers on any agency would have gladly stepped up and accepted the same mission.

As an un-trained air crew member this officer likely had no idea that he was an integral part of the air crew, who has equal authority to decline a mission or decline that take off from that mountain top landing zone in inclement weather.  Even if he had understood this, he did not have any air crew experience on which to base a decision. 

True the FAA gives final authority to the pilot in command.  But as a member of an air crew, with your life as much on the line, the TFO has absolutely as much say so as the pilot.  The saying "two to go, one to say no" means that both crew members have to agree before they can launch on a mission, but it only takes one crew member to say "no" they are not comfortable with the mission.  This rule can of course be invoked at any time, during any air mission.  Just because the TFO has not yet mastered the controls of a helicopter, or passed a check ride, does not mean that his or her concerns on the safe operation of the helicopter are any less valid. 

The NTSB seemed to find plenty of fault within the New Mexico State Police air unit and command.  To include; an attitude among some of the command that was not compatible with aviation safety, staffing issues within the air unit, specifically the lack of trained TFOs, the pilot in command having split duties as public information officer, and the complete lack of any type of risk assessment. 

I will not re-hash the entire report here.  Instead I would encourage anyone who flies, whether you are a member of an air crew or not, to read the report and take your own lessons from it. 

The entire 77 page report can be read here

R.I.P Sgt. Andrew F Tingwall, and Megumi Yamamoto (student from Tokyo)

LAPD Helicopter Struck by Gunfire Over Van Nuys

Glen Grossman photo: LAPD Patrol HelicopterAn 18 year old Van Nuys resident was in custody just after 6:00 am on Easter Sunday morning after police received a call of the subject firing a gun into the air from his front lawn.  As police officers arrived on scene, along with the Los Angeles Police Helicopter, the subject began shooting at the helicopter.

According to an L.A. Times report, officers on the ground witnessed the suspect firing at the helicopter.  The suspect, Danny Lopez, was quickly tackled by his own family members  preventing further violence.  The helicopter, struck in the fuel tank, made an emergencly landing at near by Van Nuys Airport.  The police pilot and tactical flight officer were uninjured, but confirmed that the helicopter was hit by rifle fire. 

LAPD maintains one of the largest municipal police helicopter fleets in the world with the following helicopters; 12 Aerospatiale B-2 Astars, 4 Bell 206 Jet Rangers, 1 UH-1H "Huey" heliocpter, and 1 King Air 200 Fixed Wing.  In the last few years LAPD returned to a more traditional black & white patrol car type paint sceme for their fleet of patrol helicopters.

Police Helicopter Crews "Tweeting" From All Across The UK

South Yorkshire Police Helicopter: Photo- BBC NewsLaw Enforcement helicopter units have often sought ways to improve public relations, particularly when it comes to budget crunch time.  In fact many units no longer in existence wish they would have done a better job at garnering public support while the opportunity existed.   Understandably, it would not have saved every unit that has been cut due to budget issues, but strong public support for your air ops unit can never be a bad thing.

Many police aviation units in the UK have been under the budget ax just like units on this side of the pond.  In an effort for the public to better understand exactly what these police aviation units are doing, many in the UK have taken to tweeting about their routine calls, to include rescues, suspect searches and vehicle pursuits. 

West Midlands Air Support Unit

One of the units leading the “tweeting” charge is the West Midlands Police Air Support unit who began posting updates earlier this month.  In as little as 10 days the unit had more than 500 followers and had posted over 100 messages on their Twitter Account. 

West Midlands Air Support Unit Sgt. Dave Mitchell states that it gives the public and taxpayers insight into what the unit does and how their tax money is being spent.  He goes on to point out something that anyone who has ever been a member of a police air unit knows, that the crew members of law enforcement helicopters have very little public contact during normal operations. 

Think of it this way;  Most law enforcement air units are located at secure airport facilities where the public there is little to no access.  Most police air unit members show up on calls at 500’ agl, and leave the scene at the same altitude.  Even when the helicopter lands and makes contact such as in a rescue situation, the helicopter noise along with the air crew’s helmets with face shields often prevent the victim from knowing the names of their rescuers, or even what they look like. It would seem that giving the public a way to interact with law enforcement air crews would have a net positive result.

In the case of West Midlands Police, who fly a Eurocopter EC-135 worth about $5 million, Sgt. Mitchell believes that it is not only important to provide the public with more information, but also a way for the public to provide feedback.  Twitter helps to do both of these.  Lastly, Sgt. Mitchell points out that all Twitter updates are done after the crew lands, and the helicopter is shut down.  No Tweeting from the cockpits of police helicopters. 

South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit

Another UK police helicopter unit tweeting about their work is the South Yorkshire Police Helicopter Unit.  According to Sgt. Helen Scothern- Head of the South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit, most people associate the helicopter only with car chases and criminals on the run, but just as important is the role the helicopter plays in curbing anti-social behavior and intelligence gathering.  The South Yorkshire Police Air Unit covers Sheffield, Barnsley, Rotherham and Doncaster.  Last year the unit flew for around 1200 hours and responded to over 5,000 calls or events. 

East Midlands Air Support Unit

The East Midlands Air Support Unit is also getting in on the tweeting action.  Patrolling Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire from their MD902 and EC 135 (based out of Shoreham Airport & RAF Odiham respectively) the crew of East Midlands Air Support recently tweeted; ” Lutterworth waste recycling centre:  Report of crime in progress – burglary.”

Twitter search

A quick search of Twitter revealed a total of at least 7 UK police helicopter units currently tweeting about their patrol activities.  Here are the units I found along with their Twitter address;

West Midlands Police Air Support-           @WMP_Helicopter

South Yorkshire Police Air Ops Unit-        @SYP_Airops

East Midlands Air Ops Unit-                      @EMASUHelicopter

Cheshire Police Helicopter Unit-               @Cheshirecopter

Kent and Essex Police Helicopter-             @QH99

South & East Whales Air Support-             @Helicops

Wiltshire Joint Police & Ambulance Helicopter-  @Wiltsairambo

During the same Twitter search I was unable to locate even a single Police or Sheriff’s Unit in the U.S. where the actual crews are posting their activities to Twitter. 

Since most U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies have embraced social networking on some level, even if it is only to post traffic conditions, or missing persons at risk, I predict that it is only a matter of time before we see police air units in the U.S. using Twitter as a way to connect with the public about their law enforcement activities.

Sources:  The Coventry Telegraph; BBC News; Twitter.com

Enstrom Helicopters Meeting The Helicopter Demand Worldwide

Enstrom helicoptershave always struck me as the ugly duckling of the helicopter world.  But I have always liked the rugged simplistic look of the Enstrom as well, and who doesn't like an ugly duckling story anyway? 

It really makes you think that upon initial design the engineers said "screw esthetics, let's build a helicopter that will get the job done."  More and more helicopter purchasers around the world must be thinking along the same lines.  I recently received a couple of photos and press releases from Jackie Kamps at Enstrom Helicopter Corporation.

Enstrom 480B Turbine Helicopters bound for The Royal Thai Army.

Enstrom Helicopter Corp. Begins Royal Thai Army Aircraft Production

Menominee MI, March 3, 2011 – Enstrom Helicopter Corporation would like to announce that the first three, of a contracted sixteen, 480B advanced turbine training helicopters for the Royal Thai Army have been completed at the Enstrom factory.  The aircraft have been equipped with a number of advanced features, including NVG compatible cockpits, Chelton EFIS systems, and dual Wulfsberg RT-5000 tactical radio systems.

“These represent some of the most advanced aircraft we have built to date,” commented Enstrom’s Director of Engineering, Bill Taylor.  “That we were able to get them engineered and into production so quickly is a testament to our team in Menominee, and our support from the FAA’s Chicago Aircraft Certification Office.  The Royal Thai Army is going to have some very capable helicopters.”

The First Enstrom 480B on patrol with the Japan Self Defense Force.

Enstrom Delivers First Helicopter to JGSDF

Sendai, Japan, February 25, 2011 – Enstrom Helicopter Corporation has delivered the first of a planned 30 TH-480B turbine training helicopters to the Japanese Ground Self Defense Force.  The stunning blue and gold helicopter was handed over to JGSDF pilots at Enstrom’s Service Center in Japan, JAMCO, during an elaborate handover ceremony attended by JGSDF officials and the Japanese Ministry of Defense. 

“This is a great day for Enstrom,” said Enstrom Helicopter Corp. President and CEO, Jerry Mullins, who attended the ceremony.  “The 480B was originally designed as a training helicopter.  To be chosen by a highly regarded organization, such as the JGSDF, is verification of what we started out to do with the aircraft.  This is the beginning of a long relationship with the JGSDF and we couldn’t be more excited.”

For Mitsuo Hattori of Aero Facility Co. Ltd, Enstrom’s representative in Japan, it has been a long road up to this point.  “Since we won the program 12 months ago, it’s been an exciting year.  Aero Facility has expanded in size and contracted with Japan’s premier maintenance organization, JAMCO, to support the JGSDF.   Now that the infrastructure is in place, and the first aircraft is delivered, we can look forward the next 29.”

As JGSDF pilot Hiromichi Irifune departed Sendai airport in the TH-480B, with a Kawasaki OH-1 attack helicopter in tow, Mullins commented, “There’s no doubt the 480B has been recognized as a great training helicopter.  The pilots really like the helicopter and that’s the most important thing.”

There are a handfull of law enforcement agencies in the U.S. who fly Enstrom helicopters, including the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Office in Louisiana. 

THE SIX CRAZIEST THINGS I EVER SAW FROM THE COCKPIT OF A POLICE HELICOPTER- THAT I CAN PRINT:

#6. The UFO at Flight Altitude: One day about 2 years ago I was on the pilot side of the helicopter flying patrol over the City of Escondido California when I see something go by my door. Always on the lookout for other air traffic, this unknown object sent me into a hyper vigilant state until I could determine what it was. After a little evasive action I entered a nice wide orbit and got the object back into view for both myself and the TFO to keep an eye on. Sure enough it was a standard beach variety kite, only it was flying about 800' agl over the city. It was not easy but we tracked the kite string back to a strip mall on the west side of the city. An Escondido PD motor unit contacted the wayward kite flyer. It was a Chinese business man trying to attract attention to the Chinese bakery he just opened. Don't know if kite string wrapped around the rotor head would bring a helicopter down, but we sure didn't want to find out on this day. Ok, that was not whacked out of your gourd crazy, (that's why it's number six) but still crazy.

 

#5 Mercedes Benz BBQ Style: One sunny morning my partner and I were on patrol when we got word that CHP was in pursuit of a car jacking suspect south bound out of Orange County. The suspect was driving a new Mercedes Benz sedan, 4 door, black. We picked up the pursuit in Carlsbad California and began tracking it S/B on the I-5 freeway. The pursuit was crazy fast hitting speeds well up around 100 mph when traffic allowed. The driver did an outstanding job of turning the inside shoulder into another high speed traffic lane. Eventually the Mercedes got caught behind a line of concrete barriers in a construction zone, and came head to head with several pieces of heavy equipment on the inside shoulder. He was completely trapped.

The driver took the foot and toe express over the center median and dodged his way through north bound traffic, which caused my partner and I to wince several times as many a vehicle came close to sending him to that the big house in the sky. The driver made his way into a quiet upscale neighborhood going from house to house and yard to yard trying his best to avoid the pesky police helicopter doing tight felony orbits directly over his head.

At about two minutes into the foot chase I glanced back to where the Mercedes Benz set trapped on the freeway shoulder to see it fully engulfed in flames. It was crazy surreal. The car did nothing to deserve this fate, it was parked peacefully on the shoulder it experienced an episode of spontaneous combustion. The black smoke pouring from the fully engulfed Mercedes Benz added a nice ambiance to the rest of our foot chase. The suspect finished off his little run with a play date with the nice police doggy. This was crazy good.

#4 Car Falls Out of Space Through Roof of Building- Seriously: One balmy summers eve we were on patrol over the sleepy hamlet of Vista California when we heard the Fire Department and deputies from the Vista Patrol station respond to a fire alarm in a commercial district of the city. It certainly was not a call for the police helicopter so we went about minding our own business waiting for the big one to come in. As units arrived on scene however we began to hear mutterings of a vehicle that was setting inside the business. Even more interesting was that the vehicle apparently entered through the roof. Say what? This made it all the more suspicious since the commercial area was pretty much flat, and there were no multi story parking structures in the area. Well we just had to see what this was all about for ourselves.

We trotted right on over and put our big spotlight down on the roof of the building. Sure enough there was a great big hole. And setting right there at the bottom of the hole was a car. A stolen car to be exact. It seems that somebody drove the stolen car to the business then used a large industrial grade fork lift to pick up the car and maneuver it over to the side of the building- lifting it as high into the air as possible, then dropping it through the roof of the structure, (OK so it didn't really fall from space but it might as well have.) Who would do such a thing? I think an angry former employee was at the top of the suspect list!

#3 Incredible Crazy Meteor Shower On Night Vision Goggles: If you think about it there is only a tiny percentage of the entire worlds population who get to experience night flight on night vision goggles. That would mostly be helicopter pilots- and then only military, medical, and police helicopter pilots/crews. Yes I am sure there are a few others individuals who get to experience this amplified natural phenomenon, but for the most part that is it.

Remember now that night vision goggles work by amplifying the ambient light somewhere between 10,000 and 30,000 times (just pick whatever number works best for you.) What this means is that on a clear night on patrol in San Diego we can look north and see the commercial air traffic lined up on approach to LAX in Los Angeles. Powerful stuff I say!

Now bring on the meteor showers. These meteor showers only come around so often and if you are lucky enough to be scheduled on the night crew, at the height of one of these events of nature then strap in, sit back and enjoy because you are in for one hell-uva light show! Let me explain it this way. Some of the meators appear bright enough and close enough that for a split second your mind is telling you to take corrective action with the helicopter to avoid a collision. Now that's crazy!

#2 Perp Takes AR-15 Round to the Head But is Unfazed: Ok "perp" really is not police jargon that I have ever heard, (at least on the west coast) so I just threw it in for you CSI fans. Ok, so bad guy steals truck and goes on a mid morning burglarizing campaign on the outskirts of Escondido California and he doesn't really seem to care who sees him. This is probably due to the natural diet of methamphetamines coursing through his blood stream.

So patrol deputy in car, bad guy in stolen truck, and Sheriff's helicopter crew all meet up at the same intersection at about the same time. You guessed it, short pursuit during which the meth head finds himself trapped up a long driveway that leads to a single residence where one little old lady lives. Realizing the situation he is in, the bad guy does what any of us would do, start ramming the patrol car!

Hey why does it look like the windshield of that truck is giving off powder puffs of glass. Perhaps it's .223 rounds creating this phenomenon I am witnessing. Why yes that's exactly what that is, little .223 rounds sent down range by the deputy who did not appreciate being assaulted. Thinking that the "perp" just checked out of this world I was shocked to see him open the door, step out, and politely prone himself out on the ground. Guess the deputy missed.

Now since the deputy was by himself, and the little old lady had all of her cars parked in the garage, and since she had a great big old drive way, my pilot momentarily parked our helicopter behind the patrol car long enough to let me climb out. I placed the handcuffs on said crook while the patrol deputy continued to hold him at gunpoint.

After all was calm and serene we noticed just a trickle of blood on the side of the parolee's face so I assumed it was just a small cut from broken glass. Wrong; Emergency room doctor advised that he took a round in the head, or a major part of a round, but it apparently did a little jig and did not penetrate the skull. And what did the non-courteous driver have to say? "You guys did the right thing- You guys did the right thing." Seriously, that's what he was mumbling. Crazy!

#1 And the number one craziest thing (that I can print) that I have seen from the cockpit of a police helicopter- involves a Sheriff's K9, a Man Hole Cover, and well yes- a Naked Man. The story goes like this.

Once again we are on patrol over that sleepy little hamlet of Vista California. We hear over the radio that a deputy is in a fight with a bad guy in a local park. Units are rolling code 3 to assist their fellow deputy, and we too are pedalling the helicopter as fast as we can. During the struggle and his attempt to escape the deputy, the suspect's shirt is ripped off. Just as cover units are arriving on scene the suspect breaks free and runs into a man size storm drain opening (where part of the city's storm drain system opens up into a creek.) One of the first units on scene is a Sheriff's K9 handler who releases his dog- just as the bad guy enters the darkened tunnel. Bad guy and police dog disappear into the dark underbelly of the City with K9 handler and cover deputy in foot pursuit to catch up.

For about the next five minutes the underground foot pursuit unfolds punctuated only by the occassional garbled transmissions from the pursuing deputies. After what seemed like forever a clear transmission made it through to dispatch. The deputies advised that they they had the suspect in custody and were coming up out of a manhole cover, but they had not idea where they were. The first deputy quickly obtained an address and radioed it to dispatch. A few seconds later and we were orbiting the tiny street and open man hole cover where the suspect and K9 deputy had yet to emerge.

What I saw next was damn near disturbing. Here comes the suspect up out of the man hole, stark naked, not even a sock- with his hands cuffed behind him. Now you are probably thinking what I was thinking. How do you climb a ladder with your hands cuffed behind you. There had to be somebody below giving him a push. I'm saying these deputies deserved an award for what they went through to get their man.

So where did the clothes go? Apparently every shred of clothing was ripped off of the suspect's body by the angry police dog, in the darkened bowls of the under city. The K9 deputy later said that the suspect was in a state of sheer terror, almost in shock from his encounter with the underground monster. Naked handcuffed man emerging from a man hole in the middle of the street; The #1 craziest thing I ever saw from the cockpit of a police helicopter!

 

 

Houston Police Department's Air Support Unit Turns 40

As previously reported on this site Houston PD Air Support is now approximately the third largest municipal police air support unit in the nation, behind only LAPD and LASD.  Houston Police operate primarily MD500 helicopters.  Read about them turning 40 in this article from Shephard Helicopter News in the UK. 

Houston PD takes delivery of a new MD500E in Savanna Ga. at ALEA last year.

So What's The Real Story Behind All Those Wacky Mesa Police Helicopter Videos On Youtube?

One of the main purpose of this site has always been to promote police aviation to the general public in a positive way.  In so doing I normally tend to avoid controversial subjects to the extent possible.  Not because I don’t want to take on a cause, but it just doesn’t play into the overall theme of the site. 

But every now and then something comes along that I just can’t turn a blind eye to.  Such is the case with a series of  rather silly, if not outright wacky videos on Youtube all about the Mesa Arizona Police Helicopter, Mesa Police Pilots, or the Mesa Police Air Support Unit.

In many ways this is an old story……as I will outline for you.  Why drag up old news right?  The problem is that while the story itself is somewhat stale, the videos live on in cyberspace ready to spring to life the moment someone does an internet search related to the Mesa Police Helicopter, or the Mesa Police Department’s Air Support Unit.  And since January of 2008, this often redundant series of videos has been viewed over 63,000 times, according to data from Youtube.   Some of the videos have since been reposted to other video sharing sites such as AOL video. 

And come to life they do with inflammatory titles such as;

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Busted!!”

“Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard All on Tape!!”

“Mesa Helicopter Pilots Terrorize A Innocent Woman!”

And the list of titles goes on and on until it reaches  25. 

The purpose of this article is not to attack the author of these videos.  Rather it is to provide balance for anyone who is seeking legitimate information online about the Mesa Police Air Support Unit. 

Take for example the one title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught With Pants Down!”  While used in a euphemistic fashion, it’s real purpose is to accuse and inflame.  When one clicks on the video however you get nothing more than 9 plus minutes of MD Helicopter rotor noise on four fixed cameras, and an occasional distant light from the helicopter.   It should be apparent to any observer (or listener) of the video that the helicopter is in a fairly wide orbit, as the rotor noise becomes louder and quieter depending on where the helicopter is at in the orbit.  No notable evidence of any wrongdoing and certainly nothing that rises to the euphemistic level of “getting caught with your pants down.”

The title “Mesa Police Helicopter Pilot Caught Giving It Hard.  All On Tape!”  makes one really begin to wonder about the author’s state of mind.  In this 4:56 second video you are treated to about 2 minutes of silence, 30 seconds of fairly close MD Helicopter rotor noise, and about 2 minutes of barely audible rotor noise, again on a split screen of 4 fixed cameras.  Not quite sure what the pilot was supposed to be “giving it hard” to. 

In at least one of the videos it appears the author is in his vehicle chasing the Mesa Police Helicopter through the city streets, while instructing and encouraging a child in the vehicle to get the helicopter on video. 

In order to have a better understanding of what is really going on here, we need to go back  to November of 2006.  A Mesa Police Helicopter and crew is working a police call which happens to put the helicopter in the same neighborhood as one David Degroote (about 37 at the time).  The police helicopter wasn’t on some run of the mill misdemeanor, but was actively involved in a search for suspects in the theft of a bank automated teller machine.  At least one of the crew members were wearing NVG goggles to aid in both the search and flight safety.  While in the area of the Degroote residence the helicopter and crew were hit with a high powered spot light, for approximately 30 seconds, (remember that NVGs amplify ambient light at anywhere between 10,000 and 40,000 times.)  A bright spotlight shining on the police helicopter at night time is absolutely disruptive, dangerous and without question rises to the level of interfering with a law enforcement officer in the performance of his duties. 

In the coming weeks David Degroote would be arrested by the Mesa Police Department for shining the light at their Helicopter.  On 1-16-07 a criminal complaint was issued against Degroote for the misdemeanor charges of Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct and being a Criminal Nuisance.  At the time of his arrest and at the time the complaint was issued not one of  the 25 videos about the Mesa Police Helicopter or pilots had been uploaded to Youtube.  The 25 videos in question have all been posted under the Youtube user name of “justjumpnow.”

Let me pause here and say that Mr. Degroote could very well have had a legitimate noise complaint against the Mesa Police Helicopter.  Helicopters are admittedly noisy, and tend to annoy some people more than others.  Most law enforcement aviation units are well aware of the noise emitted by their helicopters and most take noise complaints from the public seriously.  Many law enforcement air support units go so far as to avoid noise sensitive areas all together when possible.  If Mr. Degroote did have a legitimate noise complaint in this case, it appears that he chose not to follow up on it in a professional and courteous manner and instead placed himself in a position of committing a criminal act. 

According to Degroote himself, on 12-6-06 (between the date of the alleged incident and the date the criminal complaint was issued) he filed an injunction [against harassment] against Officer David Dolenar Jr and the Mesa Police Department.  The injunction was never granted by the court.  However, on 2-1-07 Officer Dolenar filed an injunction to stop harassment, against David Degroote.  On 3-21-07 the injunction was issued by the court.  The court essentially agreed that Mr. Degroote was harassing Officer Dolenar.  (Source-  Letter published by the Degroote’s on the website Freedomsphoenix.com.)  I am intentionally not linking to the site, but it is there if you want to go searching for it.

One year later, in November of 2007 David Degroote was convicted of the misdemeanor charges of  Endangerment, Disorderly Conduct, and Criminal Nuisance, according to a story in the East Valley Tribune dated Nov 9 2007.  Degroote was ordered to serve 5 days in jail, with another 25 days suspended on the condition that he completes 3 years of probation and that he completes mandatory counseling. 

One of the videos posted by “justjumpnow” is of the local News 5 TV station doing a story about Degroote’s conviction and his ongoing feud with the Mesa Police Department.  Even while the story equally covers his conviction and his complaints, the video was titled “Mesa Police Illegal Helicopter Activity Revealed on News 5.”  Huh?

The first video about the Mesa Police Helicopter was not uploaded to Youtube until 1-14-08, after Degroote’s conviction and after he was ordered by the court to stop harassing Officer Dolenar.  The last video was uploaded on 9-1-08.  The on screen dates on the videos indicate that all but one of them was filmed in 2006 or 2007 with the vast majority being filmed in 2007.

Interestingly, there has been no activity and no logins by “justjumpnow” for over a year on his Youtube channel.  Perhaps this is due to the fact that Mr. Degroote remains on probation until around November of 2010.  If I had to guess I would guess that his Youtube activities were brought to the attention of his probation officer and or the judge, and he risked going back to jail if he continued, (pure speculation on my part.) 

Can a judge curtail someone’s freedom of speech in this manner while on probation.  Absolutely, by accepting probation in lieu of more jail time the defendant agrees to give up certain liberties, which can vary from case to case.  People routinely give up their 4th amendment rights to unreasonable search and seizure, (generally when on felony probation or when the crime involved a theft.)  It would be completely reasonable for the judge to prohibit Degroote from uploading inflammatory videos on Youtube, about the Mesa Police Helicopter, while he is on probation. 

I also noted that 9 of the videos were filmed on either 2-21-07 or 2-22-07 and some of them just before and just after midnight.  This would lead a normal person to believe that at least some of these 9 videos stem from one incident, or one radio call the Mesa Police Helicopter was involved in. 

So there you have it.  I will let you decide if Mr. Degroote and his family were targeted for harassment by the members of the Mesa Police Air Support Unit, or if Degroote embarked on a misguided campaign of filming and posting videos to Youtube as a way to get back at the police for his arrest and conviction. 

It seems to this writer that Mr. Degroote could have avoided a lot of heartache by going into the police station and having a friendly chat with the person in charge of the air unit, instead of picking up a spotlight.  

Shine Laser at Aircraft Go To Federal Prison!

I don't seem to recall exactly when hand held lasers became both cheap and popular, but since that time I would guess that there are few law enforcement helicopter crews in the country (probably throughout the world) who have not been hit with a laser at least once.  I have been in the cockpit at least three occasions when a laser beam began bouncing off of the windscreen, instrument panel, etc. 

There are multiple reasons why shining a laser (even a flashlight) at an aircraft is prohibited by both state and federal law, beginning with potential damage to the eye that a laser can cause.  Regardless, it seems that there are still plenty of people who are willing to direct their hand held laser or flashlight at an airliner or even a police helicopter with little thought that they really, really, might end up in prison.

Enter 30 year old Baltazar Valladares of Roseville Ca., near Sacramento, who was just sentenced to 37 months in Federal prison this week for targeting both a South West Airline flight coming into Sacramento International Airport, and a short time later hitting the Sacramento Sheriff's Helicopter with the same laser. 

Apparently the crew of the Sacramento Sheriff's helicopter was a little sharper than what Valladares expected as they quickly pinpointed the laser as coming from his residence.  It was not long before Roseville Police were knocking on his door, and subsequently conducting a legal search of his residence.  The laser was located in two separate pieces, hidden in two separate locations within the residence. 

The investigation into the incident was continued by the FBI as well as Roseville Police Dept., and even the Federal Air Marshals Service since it involved a passenger airliner.  The end result was the sentencing announced this week by U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown.  Mr. Valladares will spend 37 months in Federal prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release.  I am sure that Valladares' prior criminal record did not do him any favors in avoiding a federal prison sentence.

Most police helicoper crews are now operating on night vision goggles.  Which means that shining a flashlight at a law enforcement helicopter is just as disruptive as a laser, considering the goggles are magnifying the light somewhere around 30,000 times.  Normally a stern warning over the P.A. of their pending felony arrest is enough to stop the behavior, but it distracts the crew and takes important time away from the police mission which very often involves searching for a violent fleeing felon. Unfortunately crime is inconvenient to everyone.

Let's hope that someday people will actually start to make the connection in their brain;  "Shine a laser or light at an aircraft, EXPECT to go to jail."

Chicago Police Department's Helicopter Task Force Continues to Prove Itself With Latest FLIR Find!

Chicago Police Dept.'s Bell Jet Ranger HelicopterOn Friday September 4th, just after midnight the Chicago Police Helicopter and crew continued to prove it's worth by locating a murder suspect hiding in the bushes, using the onboard thermal imaging device known as the FLIR. 

At about 1205 am police responded to a double stabbing on the city's south side.  An apparent dispute over money during a late night card game resulted in a 37 year old woman and her 22 year old son being stabbed.  The woman suffered stab wounds to the neck and later died of her injuries at a nearby hospital.  The son was expected to survive his injuries.

A helicopter and 3 man crew from CPD's Helicopter Task Force responded and began a FLIR search of the surrounding area. With Officer B. Raniere at the helicopter controls, Officer T. Bansley on the radios, and Officer E. Graney operating the FLIR thermal imager, the crew located then directed ground units to a subject who appeared to be hiding in bushes in the 7600 block of S. Paulina.  A 44 year old man, believed to be the stabber, was found hiding and taken into custody. Excellent work by both air and ground units!

For several decades Chicago was the only city out of "the largest 10 cities in America" who did not own or operate a single law enforcement helicopter.

The Chicago Police Department did in fact operate 2 helicopters during the 1970s but disbanded the unit in 1979 due to budgetary reasons. 

Chicago PD's helicopter unit was re-constituted in January of 2006 with the addition of a single Bell Jet Long Ranger helicopter.  By 2007 the helicopter underwent significant upgrades with the addition of a moving map system for navigating the city streets, and the Forward Looking Infrared camera system.  The department soon added a second helicopter, another Bell Jet Ranger which is outfitted with the same hi-tech equipment but even includes an Exploranium Gamma Radiation Detector for uses such as detecting dirty bombs. 

Shortly after the first high-tech upgrade the Chicago Police Helicopter Task Force utilized the new equipment to track down and help arrest a man wanted in the shooting of a Markham police officer, after the suspect had fled into a wooded area at night time.  During the same weekend, the same helicopter tracked a man who fled from a drug and weapons raid in Glenwood Ill, resulting in his arrest. 

Again, excellent work by the Chicago Police Helicopter Task Force!

New Photos Added to The PHP Picture Gallery

Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Dept. Enstrom 480B light turbine helicopter. Be sure to check out the picture gallery to see the helicopters that were on display at this years Airborne Law Enforcement Association's annual conference in Savanna Ga.  Photos are still being added but look for "Savanna ALEA" sets #1 & #2.  Just click on thumbnails for full size photo.

Topeka Police Helicopter Unit- Victim of Budget Cuts

It may be an understatement to say that the Topeka Police Department Helicopter unit has been the most hotly debated law enforcement aviation unit in the country, at least for the past 2 years or so.  While the Topeka Police Chief has been a staunch supporter of the program, a significant portion of the community has made their distaste for the police helicopter unit well known.

The Topeka Air Support unit has had a number of setbacks over the 38 years it has been in existence.  Just 3 years after it's start in 1971, Officer Marcus Hodd was killed in the crash of his patrol helicopter, a Hughes 269C (Schweizer 300) on November 1st 1974.  The NTSB ruled that the crash was the result of an auto-rotation, with a high flare, and low rotor rpm.  The report stated that reason for the emergency landing was not determined. 

The Topeka Police Department continued to operate Hughes 269/Schweizer 300 helicopters for the next several decades.  However, on June 13th 2000 tragedy struck again when two Topeka police officers were fatally injured in the crash of their Schweizer 300 helicopter.

The 2000 crash was very likely the beginning of the end of the Topeka PD Air Support Unit.  While it is not the purpose of this website or this writer to critique other aviation units, the 2000 Topeka PD helicopter crash opened wide the doors of public scrutiny of the Topeka Police Air Support Unit.

Pilot Jeff Howey (37) and TFO Charles Bohlender (33) were assisting ground units on a night time, commercial burglary alarm at a Lowes home improvement store, when things turned deadly.  According to ground units and witnesses the helicopter was in a tight right orbit over the store, when it suddenly began spinning, then nose dived into the ground and burst into flames.  Both the pilot and TFO were killed on impact.

When questioned by NTSB investigators the Topeka PD's chief pilot stated that the Pilot In Command would have flown at 500' AGL while en-route to the call, but then would have descended to 200' and 50 knots over the incident in order to conduct the FLIR search.  Now while that combination of altitude and airspeed -while working a police call, at night time, is enough to make most helicopter pilots cringe, it was further determined that the PIC had a grand total of 148.9 hours in helicopters.  The TFO was non rated.  Sadly the results speak for themselves. 

The NTSB determined that the cause of the crash was "loss of tail rotor effectiveness" due to tight right turns with low forward airspeed, and probable loss of effective translational lift resulting in low rotor rpm.  The NTSB also cited the pilot's overall inexperience in helicopters as a contributing factor. 

There is little doubt that this incident invited intense public scrutiny of the Topeka Air Support Unit, and gave ammunition to it's detractors who would like to see the air unit's budget spent elsewhere.

However, the emergency landing & crash of Topeka's R-44 patrol helicopter, caught on surveillance video at Washburn University on the evening of April 5th 2008, was likely the nail in the coffin.  The video of the crash landing made national news and only intensified the debate of the Topeka Helicopter program, among the citizens of Topeka Ks.  The pilot in command was attempting to make a precautionary landing after experiencing high engine rpm and a low rotor rpm warning light.  During the precautionary landing in the parking lot of Washburn University, the helicopters main rotor struck a light pole, causing the helicopter to come to rest on it's side, with damage. 

The NTSB determined the cause of this incident to be a malfunctioning magneto which may have sent incorrect signals to the governor, this producing the high engine rpm and the low rotor rpm warning.  Contact with the light pole was seen as a contributing factor. 

The end came during the second and final hour of a budget session at city hall when the mayor proposed to remove the final $520,000 in funding for the program, and a city council member proposed to remove funding for the city's helicopter mechanic position.  Topeka's police chief expressed shock at the move and questioned whether political motivations were involved. 

While policehelicopterpilot.com is sad to see any law enforcement helicopter program disbanded, we do not presume to know what is best for the citizens of Topeka Ks. 

NTSB Post It's Preliminary Accident Report in New Mexico State Police Helicopter Crash

The NTSB has published the preliminary accident report involving the New Mexico State Police Rescue Helicopter which crashed on the 12,000' level of Mount Santa Fe Baldy earlier this month. The report confirms earlier news reports that the helicopter likely entered inadvertent IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) shortly after lifting off and subsequently suffered a tail rotor strike as a result.

The report also confirmed that the helicopter involved in the crash was the Agusta Spa A-109E helicopter, N606SP.  The entire NTSB preliminary report is available on the NTSB website.

During the same time that the NTSB published their initial report, New Mexico State Police released the recordings of radio transmissions between the pilot and the New Mexico State Dispatch Center.  The pilot's wife was not only on duty at the communications center, but actually the dispatcher on the other end of the radio transmissions.  The pilot, Sgt. Tingwall, called her by name and advised he had hit the mountain, and that he was "going down."  The helicopter continued to fly for just under a minute before impacting the side of the mountain and rolling 800' to it's final resting place below. 

In addition to all of the events leading up to the tail rotor strike, the accident investigation will likely also focus on why Sgt. Tingwall and the hiker, Ms. Yamamoto were ejected from the aircraft, resulting in their deaths.  The medical examiner determined that Sgt. Tingwall died of hypothermia complicated by injuries suffered during the crash.

File photo of Agusta 109 helicopter, Juergen Lehle photo Wikimedia Commons. The Agusta Westland A-109E Power Helicopter is an 8 passenger (1- pilot 7- passenger) twin engine helicopter with a top speed of 168  knots (VNE) a service ceiling of 19,600', and an "in ground effect" hover ceiling of 16,600'. 

What we have not learned from the NTSB's report is if Sgt. Tingwall was an IFR rated pilot and if the crew were operating on night vision goggles, (NVG's do not provide any measure of safety when flying in the clouds, however they may help prevent inadvertent flight into clouds.)

This remains a sad day in police aviation.