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.

San Diego Police Air Support- ABLE

San Diego Police AS350B3 helicopter flying on patrol.The San Diego Police Air Support Unit (also known as ABLE- an acronym for Airborne Law Enforcement) currently operates four Eurocopter AS350 B3 helicopters out of Montgomery Field Airport.  The unit is comprised of approximately 13 sworn officers which includes two sergeants. 

All SDPD Air Support pilots and TFO's are experienced street patrol officers prior to their assignment in the air unit.  Some have also spent time in other specialized units such as SWAT or Narcotics prior to becoming airborne cops. 

The San Diego Police Air Support Unit was formed in 1986 when the agency acquired their first Bell helicopter.  For the next 20 years the unit would operate several Bell 206 B3's and Bell 206 L4's also known as the Bell Jet Ranger & Long Ranger. 

San Diego Police Air Support flew the Bell 206 Jet Ranger for many years before transitioning to the Eurocopter.

San Diego Police Air Support flew the Bell 206 Jet Ranger for many years before transitioning to the Eurocopter.

ABLE was still flying Bell helicopters 1995 when their agency and air unit received national media attention for one of the wildest police pursuits of all time, a 57 ton M-60 Army Tank stolen from a local National Guard Armory.  Officers Todd Jager (TFO) and Ed Sergott (Pilot) were in the air that day as the tank plowed it's way through the city streets, over cars and through motor homes.  Most of the pursuit was captured by the onboard camera and has been featured in numerous national television shows in the years since. 

This image is from the San Diego Police Helicopter onboard camera taken on May 17, 1995 of a stolen M60 Army National Guard tank rampaging through the streets and freeways of San Diego. 

Selection Process for SDPD ABLE Air Support

The selection process to become a member of San Diego's Air Support Unit is a bit unique when compared to many other aviation units.  First, the TFO position is 3 year position after which the TFO is rotated back to the streets.  To be selected as a pilot, a permanent position within the air unit, one must compete with the other eligible TFO's.  A candidate for pilot does not have to be currently in the unit as a TFO, but he or she does have to have TFO experience in the AS350 B3 airframe. 

Most TFO's have an average of 5-10 years of experience as a police officer prior to being selected into the air unit. 

To qualify as a candidate for a pilot position an officer must have a minimum of 1- year experience as a TFO, 4- years of experience as a San Diego Police Officer, and he or she must possess a private fixed wing license with 30 hours of PIC (pilot in command) time.  Most officer/pilots have an average of 10 years on the department prior to being selected into the pilot training program.

In the spring of 2006 the San Diego Police Air Support Unit began taking delivery of the AS350 B3 airframe, phasing out the line of Bell Helicopters they had operated for so many years.  The American Eurocopters came equipped with the latest in flight electronics and police equipment to include the Sagem Avionics Inc., ICDS-8 Primary Flight Display (PDF) System, and the Advanced Multi- Mission FLIR Ultra 8500 heat sensing camera. 

Members of the San Diego Police Air Support Unit have become nationally recognized experts in the area of tactical helicopter law enforcement operations and have set the standard for many agencies to follow.  Officer/pilot Kevin Means (who is still a member of the unit today) recently published the book "Tactical Helicopter Missions" available from Amazon.

San Diego Police and the San Diego Sheriff's Helicopter Support Unit often share the same air space and work closely together to assist each other when needed.