Police Helicopter Pilot

Helicopter Aviation & Beyond:

We take you inside the cockpit of law enforcement helicopters around the world while sharing knowledge and insight on how to become a police or sheriff helicopter pilot.

California, Orange County Sheriff's Department Air Support Bureau

Orange County Sheriff Helicopter on the ASTREA ramp, Gillespie Field Ca. on a cross country training flight.The Orange County Sheriff's Department's Air Support Unit flies out of the John Wayne Airport (SNA) in Santa Ana California, so it is appropriate that their two Eurocopter AS 350 helicopters go by the call signs "Duke I" and "Duke II" while on patrol.

The unit began operations in 1985 with two MD500E helicopters but eventually transitioned to the MD600N (no tail rotor) helicopters in 1998.  The MD600N was a faster and much quieter helicopter than the 500E.  The Orange County Sheriff's Department was the first police agency in the country to place the MD600N into service as a police patrol helicopter.  In 2005 the unit began their transition to the helicopters they operate today, two American Eurocopter AS 350B2 (Astar) helicopters.  

The Aviation Support Unit is currently staffed with one Sergeant and eight Deputy Sheriff II's. All of which are are very experienced law enforcement officers with a wide range of aviation and law enforcement experience. The average Unit member is 46 years old and has 22 years of law enforcement experience. Each pilot holds a FAA Airline Transport Pilot or a Commercial Pilot's Certificate with a rotorcraft-helicopter rating and has an average flight time in excess of 7,000 hours.

California, Montebello Police Air Support Unit

Montebello Police Air Support- R-44 helicopter. Photo- Montebello PD.The Montebello Police Department operates a joint "Air Support Unit" with the neighboring cities of El Monte, Irwindale and Baldwin Park.  Together the unit operates three Robinson R-44 patrol helicopters. The unit was initially created in 1993 by the City of El Monte California, but over time other cities came on board to participate in the program.  

Eventually the Air Support Unit began providing patrol services to the cities of Baldwin Park, Irwindale and Montebello.  The cities of West Covina, Azusa and the Baldwin Park School District Police would be added over time.  Currently this Unit operates three Robinson R-44 helicopters that are equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), searchlight, public address system, LoJack vehicle recovery system, and computerized moving map.

California, Merced County Sheriff's Aviation Unit

Merced County Sheriff UH-1H Huey helicopter. Photo- Merced Sun-Star.Merced County Sheriff's Department currently operates two fixed wing aircraft and two helicopters; 

1- Cessna 206 airplane

1- Cessna 172 airplane

1- Robinson R-44 Raven II helicopter

1- UH-1H Huey helicopter

The department acquired he Huey helicopter in 2009 through a donation from the California Emergency Management Agency (Cal-EMA) under the California Public Safety Procurement Program.  The Huey helicopter has a value of about $922,000.  

The department's Robinson R-44 helicopter is outfitted with the latest in police aviation technology, including a heat sensing camera and is primarily used for patrol an searches.  The department aquired the R-44 helicopter in 2008.

The Huey helicopter is used for moving personnel and equipment.  Many of it's missions involve the SWAT team or marijuana eradication.  

The Merced County Sheriff keeps the unit's aircraft flying through various grants and federal funding, with little to no cost to the Merced County taxpayer.  

California, Los Angeles Police Department Air Support Division

LAPD Helicopter on patrol, Photo- courtesy of Glenn Grossman.The Los Angeles Police Department Air Support Division operates 12 Eurocopter AS350 B2 Astars, 4 Bell 206 helicopters, 1 Bell UH-1H Huey helicotper, and 1 King Air 200 Fixed Wing Aircraft.  

The Los Angeles Police Department Air support Division started with one helicopter a Hiller 12J in 1956, then added a second helicopter in 1963.

The LAPD Air Support Division claims to be the largest "Municipal" police air unit in the world.  

To read more about the LAPD Air Support unit visit my other page on them here.


California, Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept. Aero Bureau

The Los Aneles County Sheriff's Department operates 12 Eurocopter "Astar" AS350 B2 helicopters, 3 Sikorsky HH3 helicopters, 2 Cessna 210 fixed wing aircraft and 1 Beach B200 fixed wing aircraft.  

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department Aero Bureau also maintains a highly technical rescue unit known as "Air 5." Acording to the departments website;  

"The Air 5 rescue program provides some of the most advanced technical rescue capabilities available in the nation. With a flight crew of two deputy pilots a sergeant crew chief and two Emergency Service Detail deputy paramedics, the team is deployed on search and rescue and over-water operations, and can rapidly deploy Tactical Response Forces during major incidents." 

 To read more about the Los Angeles Sheriff's Aero Bureau see my other page on them here.


Ca.- Long Beach Police Dept. Air Support Unit

The Long Beach Police Department Air Support Unit operates 2 Eurocopter EC130 helicopters with a crew of approximately 5 sworn police pilots. The unit operates out of the Long Beach Airport.  In 2007 the Long Beach Police announced that they would be ruturning to the MD500 as their primary patrol aircraft, citing the cost to operate the larger EC130 Helicopters. 

Long Beach Police EC130 Helicopter at Rialto Airport. Photo Courtesy of Alan Radecki, Wikimedia.

Ca.- Kern County Sheriff's Dept. Air Support Unit

Located in the southern Central Valley of California the Kern County Air Support Unit boast approximately 13 sworn members and operate a total of 6 aircraft;  Two MD500E Helicopters, two Bell OH58 Helicopters, and two Cessna fixed wing aircraft, a Cessna 210 and a Cessna 206. 

In 2008 Kern Co. Sheriff's took delivery of a Bell Huey II helicopter from Bell Helicopters.  According to a Bell Helicopter press release Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood was quoted as saying; 

"This Huey II helicopter will increase our capability to transport law enforcement personnel (SWAT), conduct search and rescue operations and aid in environmental disaster operations across the wide spectrum of terrain found in the county."

Based at Meadows Field, in the county seat of Bakersfield Ca., the Kern Co. Sheriff's Air Support Unit supports the men and woman on patrol throughout Kern Co. 7- days a week. 

Kern Co. Sheriff MD500E patrol helicopter. photo courtesy Alan Radecki Wikimedia.


California, Burbank & Glendale Police Joint Air Support Unit

The Burbank Police Department and the Glendale Police Department formed a joint police helicopter air support unit in 1979 to enhance public safety and provide an aerial law enforcement platform for the benefit of both cities.  Over 30 years later the unit continues to be a successful joint venture.  The joint air unit became more formalized in 2007.  Today the unit operates 3 turbine powered MD520 Notar helicopters.  The Notar (no tail rotor) helicopters reduce noice complaints from citizens, and significantly reduce the noise signature of the helicopter giving those involved in criminal activity less time to plan their getaway. 

In 2009 The Glendale/Burbank Police Air Support Unit began a test program with Pasadena Police to also share air support services with them, thus maximizing airborne assets while reducing costs further.  Pasadena Police operate their own air support unit which provides coverage for not only Pasadena but a number of partner cities. 

California, Fresno Police Department Air Support Unit

The Fresno Police Department's Air Support Unit was first formed in 1996 with three piston powered helicopters.  Presently the unit operates two Eurocopter EC120 turbine powered helicotpers, and 1- Cessna 206 fixed wing aircraft. 

Fresno's Police Helicopter unit also known as "Skywatch" has flown over 6,000 accident free hours in their turbine powered EC120s and approximately 20,000 accident free hours since 1996. 

According to Fresno PD's own website, "The Skywatch helicopters continue to play a major role in reducing the Fresno Police Department's overall police response times by posting an average response time of less than a minute, 35 seconds for the year of 2009 to be exact. In the year 2008 the Skywatch helicopters have achieved an all time high in the percentage of arriving first-on-scene to calls. Skywatch arrived first- on-scene in 2009 62% of the time. The Air Support Unit prides itself on its continued support of Fresno Police Department personnel and ultimately for providing a much needed blanket of security to the citizens of Fresno and Fresno County."

California, Fontana Police Department Air Support Unit

The Fontana Police Department conducts aerial patrols over the City of Fontana in a Robinson R-44 police helicopter.  Fontana first began aerial police patrols in 1996 with two R-44 Raven II helicopters equipped with all of the standard police equipment including Infrared cameras, spotlights, GPS mapping and P.A. system. 

The Fontana Police Air Support Unit operates for one 10 hours shift per day, 5 days a week and flies for around 1100-1200 hours per year.  While airborne, the Fontana police helicopter is often the first police presence at crimes in progress across the city. 

California, El Monte Police Department Region One Air Support

File photo of R-44 police helicopter, courtesy Robinson Helicopters.The El Monte Police Department Air Support Unit operates three Robinson R-44 piston powered helicopters in support of police department patrol and special missions. 

The helicopter unit was first formed in 1993 on an experimental basis.  However, the El Monte Police Air Support Unit quickly proved that having a police helicopter over their city was a benefit for both the police officers on the ground and the citizens.  

Over time neighboring cities also recognized the benefit of the police helicopter unit and came on board as partners in the program.  Today the El Monte Police Region One Air Support provides services for West Covina, Azusa, Irwindale, Baldwin Park, Montebello, and even the Baldwin Park School District Police Department. 

While the piston powered R-44 may not always garner the accolades of it's turbine powered rotor wing counterparts, it is none nonetheless a capable helicopter.

El Monte's R-44 police helicopters carry the same hi-tech equipment as more expensive police and sheriff's helicopters;  Equipment such as moving maps, heat sensing infra-red cameras, P.A. systems, and high powered spot lights. 

California, East Bay Regional Park Police Helicopter Unit

East Bay Regional Park Police Helicopter, AS350, Photo- East Bay Regional Park District.To understand the East Bay Regional Park Police air support unit one must first take a look at the East Bay Regional Park District and understand just who or what it is. 

The East Bay Regional Park District was formed in 1934 for the purposes of protecting excess watershed lands in the Oakland and Berkeley Hills.  East Bay simply refers to the area east of San Francisco Bay.  Today, almost 75 years later, the East Bay Regional Park District covers the entire area of both Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.  More than just covering two counties, the district covers over 100,000 plus acres, some 65 parks, and about 1150 miles of trails.  To top it off the district receives some 14 million visitors annually. 

One can quickly see the need for the district to not only have it's own police department, but it's own police helicopter unit, fire department, and lifeguards. 

The East Bay Regional Park Police own and operate two turbine powered Eurocopter AS350 helicopters staffed by two police pilots and one volunteer medic.  The helicopter unit flies missions in support of all district police officers, as well as enhancing the safety of all park visitors.  The helicopter unit also provides mutual aid support to any public safety agency in Alameda or Contra Costa County when called upon to do so.  

During fire season the East Bay Regional Park Police helicopter "Eagle" doubles as a fire fighting aerial asset when fire breaks out.  The helicopter routinely carries a Bambi Bucket on all patrol flights, which can be quickly attached underneath the helicopter should a fire break out. 

In addition to fires and police support, the helicopter is dispatched on all medical aid calls within the park district.  The helicopter can often land and administer direct first aid to park visitors who fall ill or become injured.  The East Bay Regional Park Police helicopter can easily be configured as an air ambulance and can be called upon to transport critically ill or injured patients from remote locations within the district if needed. 

Map of the East Bay Regional Park District.

California Highway Patrol Aviation

California Highway Patrol EC AS350 helicopter, with rescue hoist. Wikimedia photo.The California Highway Patrol operates approximately 30 aircraft out of about 8 different locations throughout the state.  The primary aircraft in the CHP fleet are Cessna T206H Stationairs (fixed wing) and Eurocopter AS 350 helicopters.  A handfull of Bell helicopters and a Cessna 182 round out the fleet.

The CHP fixed wing and rotorwing aircraft are fairly evenly spread out over 7 divisions around the state.  These divisions include;

Northern Div.  (Redding Ca.)  2- helicopters, 2- fixed wing

Central Div.  (Fresno Ca.)  1- helicopter, 2- fixed wing

Golden Gate Div.  (Napa Ca.)  2- helicopters, 2- fixed wing airplanes

Coastal Div.  (Paso Robles Ca.)  1- helicopter, 2- fixed wing aircraft

Inland Div.  (Apple Vallley Ca.)  2- fixed wing aircraft

Southern Div.  (Fullerton Ca.) 4- helicopters, 1- fixed wing

Valley Div.  (Auburn Ca.)  2- helicopters, 2- fixed wing


In total the California Highway Patrol operates 12- Eurocopter AS350 helicopters, 2- Bell 206L4 (Long Rangers), 1- Bell OH-58 helicopter, 15- Cessna T206H Stationair airplanes, and 1- Cessna 182.  

CHP Cessna Turbo 206 Stationair fixed wing. Wikimedia photo.

CHP helicopters perform numerous rescues each year in some of the smaller counties and jurisdictions throughout the state, where they are often the only helicopter available. 

For an excellent look at the fixed wing side of CHP aviation, including some of the fixed wing history, check out this article at planeandpilogmag.com.

California, Butte County Sheriff's Office

Butte County is located in the Central Valley, in northern California.  The county seat is Oroville, Ca.  The county covers an area of approximately 1677 square miles.

The Butte County Sheriff's Air Support Unit owns and operates 1- Cessna 182 fixed wing, 1- OH6 helicopter, and 1- OH-58 helicopter.  Butte County Sheriff's Department pilots are sworn deputy sheriff's.  

One of the air support unit's primary missions is marijuana eradication.  The following is from a news media release by the Butte Co. Sheriff's Office regarding one of their eradication missions in August of 09.

"In early July, a marijuana grow was located in Butte County near the Plumas County line during aerial reconnaissance flights. On 8/5/09 Deputies from the Marijuana Unit along with Sheriff’s deputies entered the illegal marijuana grow located on U.S. Forest Service
land. The marijuana grow was west of Highway 70 just before the first tunnel driving from Oroville to Quincy. The terrain was extremely steep and difficult to climb. While deputies cleared the garden area suspect(s) fled from them and escaped. Upon searching the camping area of the garden, deputies found two sleeping bags and .380 hollow point
ammunition. The suspect(s) had dammed up a nearby creek and siphoned water from that creek into two holding pools above the garden area. The garden was being hand watered through black pipe from those holding pools. Additional officers were brought into the garden to assist in cutting down all the marijuana plants. Part of the garden had already been harvested prior to this raid. Other marijuana plants appeared ready to be harvested with an anticipated ongoing harvest to continue for the next few weeks. Deputies cut down and removed 5,996 marijuana plants (with an estimated street value of $23,984,000) from this garden. The marijuana plants were removed from the garden with the assistance of the Butte County Sheriff’s helicopter. The marijuana was subsequently destroyed.
The public is encouraged to report suspicious activity they believe is related to illegal marijuana operations to the Butte County Sheriff’s Marijuana Unit at 538-7389. You can remain anonymous." 

Source of the media release was Sgt. Steve Collins.