Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

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

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California, Orange County Sheriff's Department Air Support Bureau

Orange County Sheriff Helicopter on the ASTREA ramp, Gillespie Field Ca. on a cross country training flight.The Orange County Sheriff's Department's Air Support Unit flies out of the John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana California, so it is appropriate that their two Eurocopter AS 350 helicopters go by the call signs "Duke I" and "Duke II" while on patrol.

The unit began operations in 1985 with two MD500E helicopters but eventually transitioned to the MD600N (no tail rotor) helicopters in 1998.  The MD600N was a faster and much quieter helicopter than the 500E.  The Orange County Sheriff's Department was the first police agency in the country to place the MD600N into service as a police patrol helicopter.  In 2005 the unit began their transition to the helicopters they operate today, two American Eurocopter AS 350B2 (Astar) helicopters.  

The Aviation Support Unit is currently staffed with one Sergeant and eight Deputy Sheriff II's. All of which are are very experienced law enforcement officers with a wide range of aviation and law enforcement experience. The average Unit member is 46 years old and has 22 years of law enforcement experience. Each pilot holds a FAA Airline Transport Pilot or a Commercial Pilot's Certificate with a rotorcraft-helicopter rating and has an average flight time in excess of 7,000 hours.

California, Merced County Sheriff's Aviation Unit

Merced County Sheriff UH-1H Huey helicopter. Photo- Merced Sun-Star.Merced County Sheriff's Department currently operates two fixed wing aircraft and two helicopters; 

1- Cessna 206 airplane

1- Cessna 172 airplane

1- Robinson R-44 Raven II helicopter

1- UH-1H Huey helicopter

The department acquired he Huey helicopter in 2009 through a donation from the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal-EMA) under the California Public Safety Procurement Program.  The Huey helicopter has a value of about $922,000.  

The department's Robinson R-44 helicopter is outfitted with the latest in police aviation technology, including a heat sensing camera and is primarily used for patrol an searches.  The department aquired the R-44 helicopter in 2008.

The Huey helicopter is used for moving personnel and equipment.  Many of it's missions involve the SWAT team or marijuana eradication.  

The Merced County Sheriff keeps the unit's aircraft flying through various grants and federal funding, with little to no cost to the Merced County taxpayer.  

California, Fresno Police Department Air Support Unit

The Fresno Police Department's Air Support Unit was first formed in 1996 with three piston powered helicopters.  Presently the unit operates two Eurocopter EC120 turbine powered helicotpers, and 1- Cessna 206 fixed wing aircraft. 

Fresno's Police Helicopter unit also known as "Skywatch" has flown over 6,000 accident free hours in their turbine powered EC120s and approximately 20,000 accident free hours since 1996. 

According to Fresno PD's own website, "The Skywatch helicopters continue to play a major role in reducing the Fresno Police Department's overall police response times by posting an average response time of less than a minute, 35 seconds for the year of 2009 to be exact. In the year 2008 the Skywatch helicopters have achieved an all time high in the percentage of arriving first-on-scene to calls. Skywatch arrived first- on-scene in 2009 62% of the time. The Air Support Unit prides itself on its continued support of Fresno Police Department personnel and ultimately for providing a much needed blanket of security to the citizens of Fresno and Fresno County."

Arizona, Pima County Sheriff's Tactical Air Support Unit

Pima County Sheriff Helio Courier outfitted with a turboprop engine and a Star Saffire Flir Camera.The Pima County Sheriff's Department has adopted an innovative approach to airborne law enforcement.  When tasked to come up with an airborne patrol platform without the traditional costs of a helicopter, members of the department identified the fixed wing HT 295 Helio-Courier as an acceptable alternative to the helicopter.  With slow flight capabilities in the high 20s, plenty of useable load, and the ability to mount heat sensing cameras to hard points under the wing, they discovered that they could perform about 80% of all missions that traditional police helicopters were called on to perform.  But by using the fixed wing platform they were able to provide patrol and surveillance support at a fraction of the cost.

Yes fixed wing aircraft have long been used in airborne law enforcement applications, however, the vast majority are used as transport, or strictly surveillance from high altitudes.  Not the direct patrol support that has been relegated to the helicopter for the past 40 years. 

The Pima County Sheriff's Office operates 5 aircraft to include;  1-Cessna 210, 1-Cessna 310, 2- HT-420 patrol & surveillance airplanes, and 1- MD 530FF helicopter. The unit is staffed with 6 pilots (all of whom possess commercial and instrument fixed wing ratings), and several Tactical Flight Officers. 

Pima County S.O. fixed wing and MD530F helicopter.

Arizona, Mesa Police Department Aviation Unit

The Mesa Arizona Police Department operates 3- MD 500E helicopters and 1- Cessna 172 Skyhawk fixed wing airplane. 

The Mesa Police aviation unit dates back to 1986 when the department aquired it's first fixed wing airplane.  The unit remained a fixed wing only unit until 1994 when the deparment aquired it's first two MD 500E helicopters through a lease program.  Eventually the city purchased the two helicopters and in 2003 added a 3rd MD 500E helicopter. 

Currently the aviation unit is staffed with 8 full time pilots all of whom are sworn Mesa Police Officers.  Each pilot also fulfills the roll of the Tactical Flight Officer when not assigned as the pilot.  Additionally there is a chief pilot, two part-time fixed-wing pilots, six part-time Tactical Flight Officers (all of whom are Mesa Police Officers), two mechanics, one secretary, and one sergeant assigned to the unit.

To be elligible for a transfer to the aviation unit officers must first complete 3 years as a patrol officer on the streets. 

The Mesa Police Aviation Unit is based at Falcon Field Airport in Mesa Az.

Mesa is a suburb of Phoenix Arizona with an estimated population of 452,000.

Arizona, Maricopa County Sheriff's Air Support Unit

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office operates a mix of fixed wing airplanes and helicopters for a total 6 aircraft.  These aircraft include 1- Bell 407, 2- Bell OH-58 helicopters, 1- Cessna 206 airplane, 1- Piper PA-31 airplane, and 1- Schweizer 269 helicopter.

The Aviation Support Unit is based out of Central Arizona Project Hanger in Pheonix Arizona.  According to the website www.mcso.org the air support unit "provides airborne law enforcement support to uniformed patrol, Lake Patrol, Search and Rescue operations, narcotics enforcement, extraditions and SWAT operations."

Maricopa County is home to "America's Toughest Sheriff", Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Alabama, Jefferson County Sheriff's Aviation Unit

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, headquartered in Birmingham Alabama, operates two Bell OH58 helicopters.  The unit was first established on November 19th 2003 by Sheriff Mike Hale.  At the time Jefferson County was one of the largest metropolitan areas in the Country without aerial law enforcement capabilities.

In July of 2004 The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office took possession of two non flyable Bell OH58 helicopters from Fort Rucker through the Department Of Defense 1033 excess property to law enforcement agencies program. 

In 2005 the unit received $210,000 from the Department of Homeland Security and in early 2006 they received a $100,000 Technology Grant to upgrade the helicopter(s).  On May 3rd 3006 Pemco Aeroplex Inc. based at Birmingham International Airport, delivered "Star 1" to the department after a full external restoration. 

The primary mission of the Jefferson County Air Support Unit is to;

"Enhance county wide officer and public safety by providing effective aerial support to Jefferson County Law Enforcement Agencies and to enhance the effectiveness of federal, state, and local law enforcement units by providing airborne surveillance, drug eradication, observation and reporting of criminal activity."

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Aviation Unit is supported by approximately 25 Deputy Sheriff Reserve Volunteers. 

Alabama, Etowah County Sheriff's Aviation Unit

The Etowah County Sheriff's Office operates 1 Bell OH58 helicopter, and 1 Cessna 172 fixed wing aircraft.  The department took possession of the Bell Helicopter in January of 07, through the DOD.

According to the Etowah Sheriff's website, their aviation unit;

"Provides aerial support to the law enforcement mission of the ECSO. Consisting of a Bell OH-58 Helicopter and a C-172 Fixed wing airplane, pilots are able to quickly respond to remote areas of the county to assist in search and rescue, surveillance and other related law enforcement activities."

The Etowah County Sheriff's helicopter flies out of the Northeastern Alabama Regional Airport in Gadsden Al. 

Alabama, Dale County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit

The Dale County Sheriff's Office has had an aviation unit since the 1980s.  In 2002 however they received their firs Bell OH58 helicopter from the US Department Of Defense.  The OH58 is the military version of the most popular civilian helicopter ever, the Bell Jet Ranger. 

The Dale County Sheriff's Aviation Unit has approximately 6 members, 2 of which are aircraft mechanics.  The unit operates a total of 3 Bell OH58s. 

According to the Dale County Sheriff's website, their primary mission is to "assist in search and rescue operations and counter-drug operations and is available to neighboring law enforcement agencies. The unit is also used to locate missing persons and aid in emergency situations."

Dale County Alabama is located in the south eastern part of the state just a short drive from both Florida and Georgia. 

Alabama Department Of Public Safety Aviation Unit

The Alabama Department of Public Savety Air Unit is based out of the Montgomery Regional Airport (MGM) in Montgomery Alabama.  According to the department's website the unit was first formed in 1973. 

"In 1973 the Department received a Cessna T-41 single engine aircraft through State Department of Civil Defense. In August 1974, the Department acquired two Bell 47 helicopters. Four more model 47's were added in 1975. The aviation Unit was officially formed in June of 1975. Through the years, troopers have utilized a variety of aircraft. All but four of the current aircraft are either government surplus or were confiscated in drug cases."

Every pilot in the aviation unit is a sworn State Trooper with a minimum of 3 years in the Highway Patrol Division before being qualified for transfer into the unit.  Also, each pilot must stay current and is qualified to fly all aircraft in inventory of which there are several different types and airframes. 

Presently the Alabama Department of Public Safety operates the following aircraft; 

7 Bell OH58, 1 Bell 206l, 1 Bell 407 helicopter, 3 Cessna 182 fixed wing, 1 Piper PA-31, 1 Beech B200 airplane. 

Alabama DPS Aviation Unit missions include marijuana eradication, narcotics surveillance, traffic speed enforcement, missing person or man hunts, prisoner transports, law enforcement related executive protection flights, photo, and investigative flights.