St Louis Metro Air Support Unit
Unique multi-jurisdictional activity flies 4 MD 500Es, 2 Hughes OH6s and a Cessna 172 to protect citizens of the "Gateway to the West."
St Louis Metro Aviation Unit pilots and mechanics engage in fire safety training as part of their annual training curriculum.
In order to be designated pilot-in-command (PIC), the officer must have a commercial helicopter rating. A helicopter instrument rating, although not required, is strongly encouraged. "We find that the benefits of an instrument rating are immeasurable. Not just from an emergency standpoint such as flights in IMC but the concentration, preparation and focus makes for a better pilot," notes Sgt Cunningham.
Handling of requests
During a morning briefing, all flight personnel inspect aircraft and discuss mission profiles for the day.
Airborne patrols address a mixture of requests from ground units. These could include searches, pursuits, air support in cases of burglary or robbery and other emergency situations.
Homeland security is another priority mission for the unit. "We have a large port and some iconic symbols like the Gateway Arch, so we realize we could be a target," said Cunningham. And since St Louis sits on both the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) often requests help from Metro Air Support.
After 9/11 the St Louis County Police Dept reserved the registration N911NY to demonstrate their continuing commitment to homeland security. As a gesture of support and solidarity, the department offered the N-number to the NYPD Aviation Unit. NYPD respectfully declined, feeling that it was a great show of honor and respect from another agency and wanted St Louis Metro Air Support to fly it proudly.
Because of the multi-jurisdictional nature of their work, flightcrews triage police radio calls, deciding which calls deserve priority. Fortunately, there has never been a problem with the shared service. "Our flight crews are total professionals," remarked Cunningham. "They do an excellent job responding to calls for service in all 3 jurisdictions in a fair and priority
Support of SOAR, other jurisdiction requests and mx
Because St Louis is a port city, emergency underwater egress training is critical in case of a water ditching.
In addition to flying some specialized missions with SWAT and the fire dept, the unit also supports a mission called Special Operations Aviation Rescue (SOAR). SOAR teams train closely with the 2 local fire depts located near the airport.
The local fire dept provides rescue swimmers for air-sea rescues. St Louis supports a large commercial and recreational marine community with barges, fishermen, boaters and jetskiers. SOAR deploys fire dept rescue swimmers off the skids and they conduct a long line rescue haul to shore if needed.
Although the St Louis Metro Air Support Unit is dedicated to 3 agencies, current Unit Commander Captain Mike Dierkes points out that they often respond to other jurisdictions to lend the unique support of their unit. "We really work well with all jurisdictions and we are proud to provide support when needed anywhere," Dierkes said.
Capt Dierkes is quick to acknowledge the dedication of all his staff in helping the unit succeed. In particular, he noted the dedication and service of civilian Chief Mechanic Robert Lasinski, a 30 year veteran. "Robert is recognized as one of the premier helicopter mechanics in the country and we owe a lot of our success to people like him," explained Dierkes. Lasinski is the sole mechanic to receive the "Technical Specialist of the Year" award from the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA).
Greatest service provided is safety
A St Louis County Metro Aviation MD500E prepares to depart from SUS on a patrol mission.
When asked about the greatest service provided by the Metro Air Support Unit, Capt Dierkes said without hesitation, "safety." "For example, when we got over a high speed vehicle pursuit, the pursuing officers can slow down and allow the aircraft to follow. This is safer for both the officers and the public."
St Louis Metro Air Support Unit recently applied to become the 5th airborne law enforcement unit in the world to receive accreditation from the Airborne Law Enforcement/ Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (ALEPSAAC). Accreditation requires an arduous onsite audit by ALEPSAAC surveyors.
All aspects of the operation are examined and must meet or exceed written standards. Capt Dierkes is very proud to have applied for this designation. "Naturally, any time an outside agency looks at your operation it is nerve-wracking. But I am very proud that we felt confident that we could earn this designation as a sign of our commitment to safety and the best practices of the airborne law enforcement community," commented Dierkes.
Goals for the future
Once all the aircraft complete their NVG cockpit compatibility retrofits, the unit will put its 7 NVGs into service. Hopefully, the NVG program will be implemented in the next few months and it will provide a safer margin for night operations.
Capt Dierkes would like to see all his pilots earn their CFI and CFII rating in the next few years. "Obviously, we don't need every pilot to be a CFI but every pilot knows the study and technical skill needed to be a CFI is intense so we really feel it would help further increase our safety margins," Dierkes said.
Capt Dierkes has developed a 5-year maintenance plan that helps project costs and streamlines the overall budget process. "All 3 agencies have been so good to us financially that we really try to help them in keeping costs down and in allowing them to realistically know what the unit will cost them," remarked Dierkes.
On his wish list, Capt Dierkes would love to have a larger helicopter to expand upon rescue capabilities. "I think all aviation units always want to improve their capabilities and we are no different. A larger rescue helicopter would allow us to expand both our tactical and rescue capability and that would be great." Finally, Capt Dierkes hopes he can expand the unit to provide better coverage all-around. "Ultimately, I would like to expand the unit with more personnel in order to provide 24 hrs of services to the Greater St Louis area," Dierkes said.
Ken Solosky retired from the New York City Police Dept Aviation Unit as a Lieutenant/Chief Pilot after 21 years of service and also served as the Chief Pilot for the Newark (NJ) Police Aviation Unit for 3 years.
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