SPECIAL UNIT PROFILE

3 AS350B3s have Baltimore County covered

Police helicopters patrol diverse ground and shore environment.


(L–R) TFO Jeff Parsons, Pilot Officer Mike Whelan and TFO Don Coburn with one of Baltimore County Police Dept’s 3 AS350B3s.

Pilot Officer First Class (POFC) Roger Young has been with the department for 26 years and almost 14 years with the Aviation Team. He has 5800 hrs TT, nearly all of them rotary-wing. He formerly flew helicopters with MD-NG. Young notes that many law enforcement operations are similar to front-line military missions—such as reconnaissance and surveillance in confined areas and over water.

“PD work is second nature,” he explains. Fellow POFC Brian Carver joined the Aviation Team 5 years ago after 2 years on the force. Like Young, most of his 3300 hrs TT are rotary-wing. Before he joined the department he had flown helicopters in the Army and then with MD-NG. Most recent addition to the unit, TFO Matthew Denny has been on the force for 11.5 years and with the Aviation Team for 1 year.

He has 300 hrs TT, all of them rotary-wing. Unit Supervisor Wines has nearly 25 years on the force and is a 7500-hr pilot (3850 fixed-wing, 3650 rotary-wing). A former C130J pilot with the Maryland Air National Guard (MD-ANG), he retired from the Guard in 2006 after 21 years.

When Wines joined the unit in late 1996, it had recently become an OH58 operation (although the Maule MXT7 would remain in service for another 3 years). The ex-Army OH58s served Baltimore County PD well for a decade, but by 2005 the unit was considering their replacement. Before reaching a decision it considered the AgustaWestland AW119 Koala, the Bell 407 and the Eurocopter AS350B3.

Wines says that all 3 were evaluated carefully from the perspective of crew ergonomics, power, speed, visibility and mission suitability. Hoist compatibility was also an issue. Of the 3 contenders, the AStar B3 was considered the best overall mission aircraft. From a TFO perspective, says Wines, the B3 “blew the doors off the other two.”

Putting together both pilot and TFO needs, the B3 was “simply the best available,” and an order for 3 aircraft was placed with Ameri­can Eurocopter. While more expensive than the AS350B2, the B3’s advantages include twist-grip throttles and FADEC on its single Turbomeca Arriel 2B1 (847 shp).

Wines also praises the B3 for its smoothness in the 40 to 60-kt range. The unit’s AS350B3s have been in service since Mar 2007 and are popular with the crews. “We absolutely love them,” says Wines. “These AStars are just the real deal.” Parts availability is “not an issue.” Two Breeze-Eastern 450-lb hoists were bought and installed on the first 2 AStars before delivery, but hoist operations did not commence immediately.

Special Services Section Cmdr Capt Steven Hlavach sees the Aviation Team as an invaluable force multiplier in helping to keep officers on the ground safe.

All 3 helicopters are equipped with a Spectrolab Nightsun SX16 searchlight, FLIR 8000 infrared camera, LoJack vehicle recovery system and MRC video downlink. Wines has nothing but praise for the AeroComputers moving map, which he describes as user friendly and intuitive. Product support is “outstanding.”

In January of this year the Aviation Team bought 4 sets of ITT Night Vision ANVIS F4949 NVGs (which have a 40° field of view). Crew training was pro­vided by ITT Night Vision authorized dealer Aviation Specialties Unlimited (ASU). In Jun 2008, after receiving hoist rescue training from SRT Helicopters, the unit completed its move into hoist operations.

This was achieved in conjunction with Baltimore County Fire Dept—and in particular Fire Dept Lt Mike Berna. In Aug 2009 the Aviation Team took part in the first-ever combined operational hoist rescue training exercise with Baltimore County Fire Dept and Maryland National Guard (MD-NG)—and in May of this year the unit received the Higgins/Langley Award for standing up the Maryland Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (MD-HART) in conjunction with the other 2 organizations.

To Wines this cooperation with the Fire Dept represents “a great joining of assets.” TFOs engage quarterly (or more frequently) in merged training with the Fire Dept and MD-NG. Com­munications are harmonized through use of common radio frequencies.

Mission parameters

Dispatchers from any of Baltimore County’s 10 precincts can use the Aviation Team, although radio monitoring also results in proactive self-dispatching. Normal time from incoming call to launch is 2 minutes, says Wines. From MTN to the furthest point in the county takes 8 min 30 sec in an AStar—and, while missions can last up to 150 minutes, 90% are between 60 and 75 min.

Ambient noise is a consideration, but 95% of surveillance missions are conducted at 2500–3000 ft. Department policy requires that crewmembers wear shoulder holsters and be armed at all times, although use of firearms from the air is never authorized. Service limitations are as follows: Day­time ops 800 ft and 2 miles, night ops 1000 ft and 3 miles. Max windspeed 35 kts—and no flight in icing conditions.

New skills, new services

Condon notes that it was the experience of Hurricane Isabel in Sep 2003 that highlighted the need for a hoist to rescue stranded citizens. Hoist mission training replicates high-water rescue. Placing swimmers down by hoist is much safer for rescues, adds Young.

The unit has performed 4 hoist rescues so far, most recently during this February’s blizzard. Carver explains that the Aviation Team saved the life of a diabetic patient by inserting a medic into an otherwise inaccessible location.

The patient was stabilized and the National Guard proceeded to plow an access road. Young recounts that the unit performed its first hoist last July—just 5 days after completion of training. A lady who had tried to rescue her dog at Pretty Boy Reservoir got into trouble herself and called the police on her cell phone. She was picked up by basket and her dog was carried out—both of them unharmed.

Maintenance

While contract maintenance on the AStars is carried out by Sterling Heli­copters at its Philadelphia location, Onsite Mechanic Michael Mul­care is assigned from Sterling as a subcontractor at MTN. Mulcare, who began doing maintenance for Baltimore County PD in 1989, has been full-time since 1997.

He carries out the required 30-hr inspections and all local and unscheduled maintenance, including chip lights, malfunctioning gauges and starters. Unit aircraft are rotated through Philadelphia for 100-hr inspections, and 2 AStars are operational most of the time. Mulcare notes that the Avi­ation Team has “a wonderful safety record.” Since 1988 the unit has flown more than 24,000 helicopter hours without an accident.

Interagency cooperation

Baltimore County PD Aviation Team often shares the skies with helicopters from news organizations and other police jurisdictions. “We overlap and work really well with the City PD,” says Wines. “We have a very good working relationship.” The same applies to Maryland State Police, nearly all of whose work is medevac. The unit also enjoys good relations with the MTN management and buys fuel directly from the airport.

Success by numbers

This year so far, Baltimore County PD Aviation Team is flying an average of 155 missions monthly for a total of 163.5 flight hrs. Missions cover the gamut from search and surveillance (42%) and direct patrol/data-driven activities (22%) to homeland security (9%) and training (2%). Baltimore County PD Aviation Team makes several “helicopter grabs” each week and is directly involved in more than 400 arrest assists a year.

But even though the unit is deeply engrained in department culture, Wines says, “We can never stop marketing ourselves. We let them know they’re getting the bang for the buck.” “The stuff we do is incredible,” says Connolly. “There’s no job like it.” Young concurs. When he transferred from ground patrol to the Aviation Team, he says, “I went from the second best job to the best job.”

Condon cites another benefit: “We have an outstanding rapport with our citizens, even on the street level.” Wines concludes, “It’s all business, but we have a great time. I’m lucky to have the people who are assigned to the unit. We’re cops who love to fly—it doesn’t get any better than that.”

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