US Park Police fly Bells to serve DC

Eagle 1, 2, 3 are a 412EP, 412SP and 206L3. USPP is a highly respected aviation unit that soars about the nation's capital.

By Jay Chandler

ATP/Helo. Learjet series, Shorts 360, Sikorsky S54, Boeing Vertol 234

USPP crews train hard throughout the year in both winter and summer months. Above crews train in hoist operations over water.

Anacostia Park in Washington DC is 1200 acres of beautiful recreational areas including ball fields, marshland and the "Eagle's Nest," where the United States Park Police (USPP) helicopter aviation unit headquarters is located. Nestled among the stunning federal park land and facilities is the home of 3 Bell helicopters and the men and women who strive to serve and protect the DC area by air.

The USPP is one of the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in the United States having jurisdiction over all national parks, federal monuments, certain federal property and the additional responsibility of protection for the President and other dignitaries.

In 1791, George Washington established the Park Watchmen to protect federal property in DC. In 1849 they were placed under the Dept of Interior. In 1919 the name was changed to the United States Park Police and today the unit is a full service law enforcement agency with air, marine and a horse-mounted patrol to answer the call.

USPP's air unit was first established with a single Bell 206B JetRanger in April 1973 at the Anacostia Naval Air Station under the command of Lt Richard Chittick. His son, Sgt Kevin Chittick, currently flies for the USPP himself as the air unit's chief pilot, joining the USPP in 1987 and the air unit in 1993.

Originally, the air unit started with 3 pilots and 3 rescue technicians adding a second Bell helicopter a Bell 206B3 in 1975 and moved to Andrews Air Force Base MD. The USPP established the "Eagle's Nest" in 1976 and traded in the Bell 206B3 for a 206 L3 in 1983.

In 1991 USPP bought its 1st twin-engine helicopter, the Bell 412SP. In 1994 the staff was increased to provide 24 hour coverage for the DC area and a 2nd Bell twin-engine helicopter was added in August 1999, a Bell 412EP. It was the 4th USPP helicopter designated "Eagle 1." The Bell 412EP was also registered with the same N or registration number as the JetRanger used in the Air Florida Flight 90 rescue on January 13, 1982.

Air Florida Flight 90

Lt Simeon Klebaner, commander of the USPP Air Unit, stands in front of Eagle 2, a Bell 412SP.

One of the most memorable helicopter rescues captured on film was the rescue efforts following the crash of the Air Florida flight bound for Florida. Flight 90 departed DCA (Washington National) in severe winter weather, icing conditions and with faulty engine indications.

The NTSB investigation concluded the crew did not advance the throttles to takeoff power (though the N1 gauges indicated proper power settings) resulting in insufficient power for takeoff and the plane crashed into the 14th St Bridge shortly after takeoff.

A total of 78 people died from the tragic event, 74 passengers and 4 people on the bridge. The USPP Bell JetRanger with Pilot Donald Usher and Rescue Technician Melvin Windsor flew as the dramatic rescue attempt unfolded. That afternoon 5 passengers were rescued from the icy Potomac River by the crew of Eagle 1.

In low ceilings and visibility, the crew of the JetRanger made its way to the 14th Street Bridge to only find the tail of the Boeing 737 protruding from the icy water and 6 survivors clinging to the wreckage. Without a hoist and only a life line, Rescue Technician Windsor threw the rope to the passengers and dragged them to shore. Most survivors were cold and hypothermia had already set in. Many were too weak to hold on to the rope.

One female survivor fell off the rope and Usher hovered so low the skids were in the water while Windsor grabbed the woman and held on to her while the helicopter slowly moved to shore. Hovering in tight quarters is dangerous and it is easy for a flightcrew to focus on the rescue and not watch the rotor blades and surrounding obstacles. Eagle 1 was able to rescue 5 of the 6 survivors that day, a heroic accomplishment in extreme conditions, and it is a testament to the training and discipline exhibited by the USPP air unit then and now.

Training and safety

Sgt Jeff Hertel, pilot and unit flight instructor, provides flight instruction to unit pilots and RTs training to advance into a pilot slot.

Since the USPP falls under the Department of Interior (DOI) so is their aviation training, safety and standardization oversight. Sgt Chittick serves as the chief pilot and instructor for all local training but DOI's regional air manager sends check pilots for annual flight evaluations.

The Boise-based check pilots conduct flight evaluations and training for SWAT, rappelling, hoist and short haul missions (transporting people on an external line for short distances). The USPP has hired ground officers who are already helicopter pilots but Lt Simeon Klebaner, commander of the USPP Air Unit said most of their pilots were Rescue Technicians (RTs) first with the USPP and then progressed to pilot positions.

In addition to Sgt Chittick's Chief Pilot duties, he holds a CFII certificate and conducts flight instruction when not engaged on an actual mission for RTs as the USPP flightcrew consists of 1 pilot and 2 RTs. RTs fly from the left seat and log pilot time while flying with Chittick and are eventually sent to a helicopter flight school when recommended. Klebaner stated that by training as onboard RTs they already know the person and how they perform as a crewmember.

The RT attends flight training at a designated FAR Part 141 helicopter school for their private, commercial and instrument helicopter certificates. The new pilot then returns to work for another 50 hours of local training. The RT who is now a pilot attends Bell 206 flight training at the Bell Helicopter Academy and returns to the Eagles Nest where a DOI check pilot administers a flight evaluation.


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