SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE
3 AS350B3s have Baltimore County covered
Police helicopters patrol diverse ground and shore environment.
By Phil Rose
Today’s Baltimore County PD Aviation Unit operates an all-Eurocopter fleet—3 AS350B3 AStars. (Main photo L–R) Unit Commander/Pilot Sgt Ron Wines, TFOs Matt Denny and Pat Connolly, Pilot Officers Brian Carver, Roger Young and Mike Condon, TFO Matt Jackson and Pilot Officer Dan Wolf.
Maryland’s Baltimore County extends to the west, north and east of the City of Baltimore, all but surrounding it on 3 sides. With an area of 610 sq miles and a pop of 789,000, the county is divided into 10 precincts.
Land use is mixed. While it includes many unincorporated communities and numerous manufacturing centers, much of Baltimore County is rural in nature. An extensive shoreline (totaling 173 miles) adds to the challenges of policing such a large area.
Forming a key part of Baltimore County Police Department’s public safety and crimefighting efforts, the Aviation Team’s 11 assigned personnel operate 3 American Eurocopter AS350B3 AStars from their base at MTN (Martin State, Baltimore MD). MTN has been home to the Aviation Team since its inception, although the unit has occupied its current location on the field for less than 5 years.
(Top to bottom) Aviation Unit conducts hoist practice with an AS350B3. Delivered in 1993, the unit’s first new aircraft was a Robinson R22. One of 3 Bell OH58s that served from 1995–2007.
In Dec 1983 Police Officer Roy Taylor agreed a 1-year lease of his 1965 Cessna 150 to Baltimore County for a nominal $1. The following year Taylor was assigned to the Marine Unit.
When the Aviation Squad was established in Jun 1984 as part of the Marine Unit, Taylor became a part-time pilot, flying the Cessna on missions approved by the Field Operations Bureau chief.
That year the Cessna 150 was flown a total of 30 hrs. The value of aerial police work grew increasingly clear, and in Feb 1985 ownership of the Cessna was transferred to the Police Dept.
In late 1988 the department acquired its first rotary-wing equipment, when the General Services Administration agreed to transfer 2 ex-US Army Hughes TH55s to the unit.
After extensive refurbishment, the one flyable aircraft entered service in Oct 1989. The second TH55 was used as a spares source. In Mar 1991, during a money laundering and drug investigation, Baltimore County Police and US Customs seized a Beech Sundowner and a Hughes 269, both of which were transferred to the department in November of that year.
The Sundowner was later used as part payment for a new Maule MXT7-180. Delivered in Aug 1993, a month before the Maule, the unit accepted delivery of a Robinson R22—the first new aircraft in the unit’s history. In November of the same year, ownership of the department’s Cessna 150 was transferred back to Officer Taylor.
A further TH55 was received from the Dept of Defense (DoD) in Dec 1994 to provide more spares for the unit’s flyable TH55. Then, in Oct 1995, DoD supplied 5 ex-military OH58s. Refurbishment of 3 of these aircraft began the following year and the first example entered service in Jul 1996.
The unit had recently sold its TH55 and R22, and it received 3 more Army-surplus OH58s later in the year, by which time all 3 from the original batch had been refurbished and were flying. Oct 1999 marked the end of fixed-wing ops for the unit when the Maule was sold privately.
The OH58s went on to serve until early 2007, when they were succeeded by 3 new American Eurocopter AS350B3 AStars which had been ordered in Feb 2006. Construction of the unit’s current hangar began in Oct 2005. The unit moved in the following May. The 10,000 sq ft building includes 2000 sq ft of office space.
Organization and leadership
The Aviation Team falls within Special Services—one of 2 sections making up Baltimore County PD’s Support Operations Division. (The other is Operational Services.) Special Services also includes the Tactical Unit, Marine Team, K9 Unit and 2 ad hoc units—the Underwater Recovery Team and Hostage Negotiation Team.
Heading the Aviation Team is Sgt Ron Wines, who joined Baltimore County PD in Sep 1985 and spent 11 years on ground patrol duties before joining the Aviation Team as supervisor in Dec 1996. Wines reports to Special Services Section Commander Capt Steve Hlavach at Support Operations Division HQ in Dundalk MD. Hlavach in turn reports to Support Operations Division Commander Major Larry Suther.
“The Aviation Team is a big reason why crime is down in the county,” says Hlavach. “One helicopter can do what 10 officers on the ground can do. And they can be on scene almost immediately.
If we have a robbery or burglary, their ability to get an aerial view and direct cars in the right direction is priceless.” All the unit’s assigned personnel—5 part-time tactical flight officers (TFOs) and 7 pilots (one of whom has been promoted out to ground patrol)—are sworn law enforcement officers.
This stems at least in part from budgetary issues. As Wines notes, “I can’t afford to train a pilot from the ground.” Not only are team members police officers first—most are ex-military. Service discipline and training feed directly into the unit’s goals and methods, explains Wines. Minimum requirement for new pilots is 1000 hrs turbine helicopter time.
However, Wines notes that there is almost no turnover at the unit, with all personnel being “in for the long term.” When they are appointed, pilots go to the pay grade above their current rate. TFOs do not—yet.
Most officers can retire after 20 years with department, although newer officers must put in 25. Standard retirement age is 70, but after 60 a mandatory physical is required. Aviation Team members work 4 overlapping shifts spanning the unit’s active operational hours (0700–0200).
Shifts run approximately 0700–1500, 1000–1600, 1500–2300 and 1800– 0200, with a minimum of 2 full crews on duty at any given time. A typical duty cycle consists of 2 weeks of days followed by 2 weeks of nights. Promotion for Aviation Team members means an automatic move to ground patrol (as, for example, the pilot recently promoted to corporal).
Personnel and equipment
Ofcr Patrick Connolly has served with the department since Oct 1989 and joined the Aviation Team in Jul 1994, making him the longest serving member of the unit. A former pilot with 1400 hrs TT, all of them fixed-wing, Connolly is a TFO. Ofcr Mike Condon has been with Baltimore County PD for 23 years.
He joined the Aviation Team 2 months after Connolly, in Sep 1994. Of his 6500 hrs TT, 2500 are fixed-wing. An ex-Army helicopter pilot, Condon also served for 13 years in the Air Force, where he flew Lockheed Martin C130J Hercules. There is some trading of TFO duties, explains Condon, and in any given week a pilot will typically fly 2 or 3 missions as a TFO.