Airborne law enforcement developments in the age of terrorism

Spreading threats demand new skills.

Job opportunities

Metro Air Support MD500E during a tactical demonstration at SUS (Spirit of St Louis MO). This aircraft is fitted with an IAI Tamam POP 200 observation system.

Many agencies require their pilots to be sworn officers before they are assigned to their aviation unit. This requires meeting the same standards as a newly hired police officer and attending the police academy.

In recent years, the trend has been to hire non-police pilots-often high-time ex-military or civilian pilots-to fly law enforcement aircraft. Each agency is different. An individual agency's website normally lists hiring opportunities, requirements and other specific criteria.

This type of flying usually brings advantages such as excellent medical and dental benefits, and generous vacation and sick time. The disadvantage to law enforcement flying is that missions are conducted 24/7, every day of the year.

This means working unusual hours as well as holidays and weekends. James McVey, a former NYPD pilot and now a chief pilot in the corporate world, summarizes his feelings: "Law enforcement flying was very challenging, fast paced and exciting.

I enjoyed every minute of it!" Regardless of how they view their particular job, all law enforcement pilots attest to the wonderful feeling that comes from saving a life.

As one pilot puts it, "Stealing form a popular TV commercial, 'The look of relief and gratitude on a family's face when they have been rescued after being stranded hiking-priceless'."

Unusual turns of events

During the Presidential term of George Bush senior, First Lady Barbara Bush was visiting New York City. At the last minute her helicopter from VMX1 was grounded due to a mechanical issue. NYPD Aviation was called, and history was made when NYPD became the first nonmilitary unit to transport a member of the first family on an official mission.

Texas DPS Aviation Section Eurocopter AS350B2 AStar, equipped with L3 Wescam 12DS200 and Spectrolab SX16 Nightsun, during an exercise at AUS (Bergstrom, Austin TX).

And no, they did not get to use the coveted Air Force One call sign! Another case from the 1970s which involved the White House found a Maryland State Police helicopter hovering between the White House and an emotionally disturbed pilot flying a stolen helicopter.

If his intent was to crash into the White House, 2 brave and determined Maryland state troopers flying a Bell 206B JetRanger had other ideas. Fortunately, the incident was resolved when the stolen aircraft landed on the south lawn of the White House.

Into the future

With the rapid development of unmanned aerial vehicles and systems (UAVs and UASs, respectively) and their success in US military operations, it is only a matter of time before law enforcement agencies start taking advantage of such systems.

Some agencies have experimented with UAVs on a limited basis. FAA and law enforcement are working on a host of issues that need to be discussed and resolved before these systems enter mainstream airborne law enforcement.

Among the most pressing are safety and ATC concerns. As ALE continues to grow and develop, one thing is certain-as new threats emerge and bad guys come up with new and creative ways to commit crimes, airborne law enforcement will be ready to meet them.

Ken Solosky retired from the New York City Police Dept Aviation Unit as chief pilot after 21 years of service. He is currently chief pilot for the Newark (NJ) Police Aviation Unit.


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