Massachusetts State Police Air Wing
Veteran unit with Eurocopter AS355s and EC135s maintains public safety, apprehended Boston Marathon bombing suspect.
Extra skills are always important in a small department. TFO Mark Costa is also the unit's resident expert (self taught) on integration of the unit's customized law enforcement tactical equipment. He is working closely with Metro Aviation on the new EC135 the department will receive later this year.
Since 1999 the unit has been qualified to perform water drops using a Bambi bucket in support of firefighting activity, although National Guard helicopters based at BAF (Westfield MA) have equipment with greater water drop capability for fighting large fires. "We understand and respect our limitations," Smith says.
Callouts for the department originate at State Police headquarters in Framingham MA. A mission support officer (MSO) is on duty at one of the 3 bases continuously to receive incoming calls and coordinate the appropriate response.
The unit has a strong safety culture, with an active safety management system modeled after the US Army's helicopter safety program. LWM-based Aircraft Commander Mike Peaslee serves as the department's safety officer.
He holds monthly safety meetings with all the department's flightcrews to discuss factors related to recent operations, lessons learned, and any procedures that need to be adjusted based on recent flight experience.
TFO Kevin Kaupp, who has been with the Air Wing for about a year, will take over Costa's responsibilities for tactical law enforcement avionics integration and standardization later this year when Costa transitions to pilot responsibilities.
New officers for the unit are selected from the ranks of the State Police, with candidates typically expected to have had 5–7 years on the job. Sgt Rota, who supervises the process, says a recent round of hiring brought 45 résumés, which were culled to about 20 candidates chosen for interviews and testing.
As part of the process, serious candidates received dunker training, along with a practical skills assessment to evaluate how well they were likely to assimilate to the aircraft and the host of multitask skills the job requires. A final interview with the unit commander, executive officer, safety officer and Sgt Rota narrowed the field to the final 4 officers selected to become TFOs.
John Pina's skills as a software designer were critical in his selection from among other TFO candidates when he joined the department 12 years ago. He became a pilot in 2006 and is an aircraft commander today.
All aircraft maintenance, with the exception of engine and gearbox overhauls, is performed in-house at the unit's PYM facility. Tom Koury is director of maintenance. He directs a staff of 3 technicians. All the maintenance personnel are civilian employees.
Koury joined the wing in Apr 2001 after a decision was made to discontinue the use of contract providers and move maintenance operations in-house. He learned about helicopter maintenance in the US Coast Guard, where he served for 20 years before retiring in 1996.
Along the way he earned both an A&P license and a degree in aviation science. All of Koury's assistants are also former Coast Guard helicopter maintenance personnel.
The aircraft are maintained in accordance with Eurocopter's factory-approved maintenance program, with inspections at 100, 400 and 800-hr intervals. Engine overhauls are sent to the Turbomeca facility at GPM. Gearbox overhauls go to Eurocopter, also at GPM.
This 4-man team is based at PYM and handles all of the unit's maintenance. (L–R) Technicians Lou Williams and Cuthbert, Dir of Maintenance Tom Koury and Technician Peter Gilson. All hold A&P ratings and formerly maintained helicopters in the US Coast Guard.
Griffin Avionics at HYA (Hyannis MA) maintains the avionics on the unit's helicopters. Koury and his crew troubleshoot the tactical police equipment installation, returning the equipment to the manufacturer if it requires repair.
Like many police helicopter units across the US, the Massachusetts State Police Air Wing conducts a highly professional flight operation, taking maximum advantage of scarce assets to provide critical public safety services 365 days a year.
It was through that professionalism and dedication to duty that they were in position to perform the key role on the fateful evening of April 19 in Watertown MA that led to the arrest of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In doing so, they brought honor and respect to airborne law enforcement units and personnel everywhere.
Mike Potts is an aviation consultant and freelance writer. He worked in corporate communications for Beech and Raytheon Aircraft between 1979 and 1997.