In addition to keeping in close formation 10,000 parts that want to fly apart, law enforcement helicopter crews must be braced to deal with the antics of the bad guys, from gunshots and lasers to hand-flung rocks and fireworks. Here’s how one agency meets that challenge.
In the aviation unit of a major metropolitan police force such as that of New York City, the work can be nonstop. From regular patrols and flights supporting officers and investigations on the ground to a steady menu of special events, international business and diplomatic gatherings and growing homeland-security requirements, the unit’s crews and aircraft can be in the air around the clock.
That operational tempo demands that the pilots of the New York Police Dept. Aviation Unit continually hone their skills in a wide variety of missions. But the hectic pace of regular duties can make that difficult to do.
"Because of the operational tempo, it takes a lot more to get things done," said Police Officer Denis Dirienzo, the unit’s chief pilot. For one thing, the tempo puts a lot of hours on the unit’s aircraft–three IFR-equipped, twin-engine Bell 412s and four VFR single-engine AgustaWestland A119 Koalas–which drives them into maintenance checks quicker. For their part, the pilots are busy flying missions. "You have to really buckle down to fit all this stuff in."
To meet that challenge, the unit, which operates under FAR Part 91, is pursuing a number of enhancements to its training program.
Since the New Year, it has had a large training room constructed in its ex-U.S. Navy and Coast Guard hangar at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn to house a Frasca Model 342/TruFlite H flight training device configured to match the A119s. The unit is working to gain FAA certification of the device so its pilots can log time for the training done in it.
The NYPD unit also is in the early stages of developing an in-house capability to train crews on the use of night-vision goggles.
In addition to that, unit officers are enhancing the operational capabilities of police aviation in New York City. For the last two years, for instance, they have been developing and practicing techniques with the Fire Dept. of New York for collaborating on responses to high-rise fires. The rivalry between the departments is legendary and has been criticized many times for contributing to disjointed responses to emergencies in the city. But now the unit, together with police Emergency Services Unit personnel, are refining and drilling on plans for working side by side with firefighters in airlifting them to rooftops and clearing the way for them to battle blazes and rescue occupants.
Also, the aviation unit’s commanding officer said the development of airborne-use-of-force policies and tactics are "seriously being discussed.
"We’re trying to stay one step ahead of the competition, so to speak," said Deputy Inspector Joseph Gallucci, the unit commander. Toward that end, "the training never ends. We try to get our people comfortable with every aspect of any mission that they’re going to be required to fly. It’s an ongoing process."
The unit has 35 pilots, 18 maintenance staff members and several support staff. It flies about 8,000 missions a year, with some flights involving up to four separate missions. Mission types are numerous and varied, but can be divided into two groups: patrol and "other."
Patrol missions generally are flown by the Koalas, with a minimum crew of pilot and copilot. They include flights to support officers on the ground, such as vehicle pursuits, searches and clearance of rooftops. The Koalas fly "directed patrols" to monitor sensitive homeland-security sites such as bridges, tunnels, airports, ferry lines and cruise ships. They also patrol areas identified by department or other agencies’ intelligence as areas of concern. "Of course, this being New York City, we have large events going on on a continuous basis–parades, demonstrations," Gallucci said. "We’ll send a patrol aircraft up to monitor crowd movements and relay that information to incident commanders on the ground."
The 412s fly with a minimum crew of pilot, copilot and crew chief and are used for the "other" work. That includes supporting the police Emergency Services Unit as well as the work of the department’s detectives and intelligence and counter-terrorism divisions. The 412s also fly air-sea rescue missions up to 20 mi. off shore, a key capability since the nearest U.S. Coast Guard aircraft are in Atlantic City, N.J. and Cape Cod, Mass.
To prepare for all those missions, the unit does most of its training in house. It has eight CFIs on staff.
Most pilots joining the unit are fixed-wing rated. The unit’s minimum qualification is a commercial pilot’s license of any type.
"We have a syllabus that will take them from entry level straight up through 412 pilot," Gallucci said. "We take them from zero to commercial rotorcraft, from commercial to instrument, and from instrument we’ll take them into the 412." All the unit’s 412 pilots are instrument-rated.
But first, new pilots get checked out in the A119 patrol aircraft.
"We’ll send them to the manufacturer’s flight school once we feel they’re at a level that it’s going to be beneficial to them," Gallucci said. "The 412 pilots all go to FlightSafety and everybody else will go to Agusta" in Philadelphia.
New members generally have at least three years police patrol experience.
"When we interview people, we’re very interested not only in their flying credentials, but we’re also interested in their police background," the commander said. "It’s very difficult to fly a police helicopter never having been the guy on the ground who’s requesting the assistance.
"It just makes your job as a police pilot that much easier, and you’re more useful to that guy on the ground who you’re supposed to be supporting if you already know what it’s like to work that type of a job from the ground.
"We have a program in place to teach people how to fly," he said. "We don’t have a program in place here in the aviation unit to teach people how to be good cops. They need to bring that to the table."
The Frasca TruFlite FTD is a key part of the flight training program. Acquired with money from a federal fund filled by the seizure of criminals’ ill-gotten gains, the device gives unit instructors the ability to familiarize new pilots with the A119 and hone their emergency-procedures skills by simulating problems they would never consider simulating in the real aircraft.
Unit members said the FTD will simplify the process of bringing new pilots into their operation by allowing them to learn the Koala before they get in the $3-million aircraft.
"You can’t really teach somebody how to fly in it," said Police Officer Glen Hoffman, one of the unit’s instructor pilots, of the FTD. "But you can get them accustomed to all the switchology in the cockpit and the emergency procedures. But the time they get in the real aircraft, they’ve already started it 10, 20, 30 times in here, with all the malfunctions."
"It’s good for a pilot at any level," Gallucci said. "It’s good for the new guys. For them, we can teach them some basic skills. For the experienced guys, we can enhance their proficiency. It’s just another tool that we have available to us."
Unit instructors are still working the FTD into the training syllabus. "So far, it’s been used as needed," Gallucci said.
In addition to practicing the obvious emergency procedures without putting pilots or aircraft at risk in the air, Hoffman said, the FTD can help instructors refine a new member’s piloting techniques. As an example, he said, he can use the FTD to slowly lower engine oil pressure and increase oil temperature. In that situation, "I can see if they’re scanning the gages" and picking up problems before a major one develops, he said. "You can’t simulate that in the aircraft."
For the NVG training, the unit had Bell instructors come to Floyd Bennett Field. The reason?
"We wanted to fly in the environment we operate in–off the shore line looking out, going through the city with the lights," said Dirienzo, who has experience flying NVGs as a former U.S. Marine Corps AH-1 Cobra pilot. "We actually did some of the training where we fast-roped guys as well as in our normal environment."
As Gallucci explained, the unit is just getting started on the NVG work. "Basically we’re at the stage where we’re doing crawl-walk-run," he said. "We had Bell train our trainers. Eventually we’re going to try to get more people trained through Bell, but in the meantime we’re starting to put together–the program’s in its infancy right now–an in-house program."
Manufacturers, Schools Focus On Law Enforcement Skills
American Eurocopter plans to field flight training devices for the EC135 and AS350B3 by mid-2007 as part of an effort to further enhance its training offerings for the law enforcement community.
The Eurocopter subsidiary wants to acquire a full-motion, Level 6 EC135 flight training device and a fixed-base, Level 3 AS350B3 FTD that is instrument- and night-vision goggle-capable.
"We feel in the law enforcement community we can use that to enhance our training both day and night," said Del Livingston, the company’s vice president of flight operations and training. "That’s one of the things we’re adding to enhance our courses."
The company plans to open a new training building at its Grand Prairie, Texas facility by the end of this year. The new FTDs would be housed there. The mid-2007 availability is dictated by lead time of FTD manufacturers in providing the devices, particularly the EC135 unit.
The FTDs would allow American Eurocopter to offer scenario-based training, such as how to manage inclement weather and avoid inadvertent entry into instrument meteorological conditions.
The drive to acquire the training devices is among the latest efforts by manufacturers and flight training organizations to improve and expand the training support they offer to airborne law enforcement units.
Last year, for instance, American Eurocopter gained FAA Part 141 certification for its NVG course, joining Bell Helicopter and Aviation Specialties Unlimited in the ranks of such certified NVG trainers.
At the same time, American Eurocopter developed a course called Urban Night Emergencies aimed at familiarizing pilots with how to handle hazards of unaided nighttime flying. The course was developed at the instigation of Eurocopter operators.
"Customers would come here for the recurrent daytime training and say, `We fly mainly at night on police missions and we’d like to have a night course,’" Livingston said. "So we went ahead and developed that and put it as part of our 141" certification.
Livingston said both the NVG and Urban Night Emergencies courses "have really taken off. We have certain law enforcement agencies that generally fly around the city but do not use goggles sign up for the Urban Night Emergencies on a regular basis. We particularly have some of the Canadian police forces that have come down here and availed themselves of those courses in the EC120."
The emergencies course covers all of the procedures reviewed in daytime courses, Livingston said: autorotations straight in and at 90 and 180 deg. and any of the other emergency procedures. "Of course, a lot of the course is just the physiology of flying at night and how to fly at night.
`Come to Us’
The NVG course in Grand Prairie uses both the EC120 and the AS350, but he said the greatest appeal is for training conducted at the customer’s location.
Some law enforcement customers go beyond the AS350 and EC120 and are flying larger machines, such as the 145. "We do the full-up night-vision course for them" as well. Livingston said.
In both the NVG and night emergencies courses, "we do full-touchdown autorotations," using an airfield near the Grand Prairie plant "with the full support of the management of the airfield." The procedures in both the NVG and urban emergencies courses are flown to the runway, and the aircraft used in Grand Prairie "are set up with long carbide skids to go to the runway."
American Eurocopter has not yet decided to offer ab initio training for law enforcement pilots "although we’re looking more and more that that might be an area we need to go into."
Given that many industry officials are indicating that it is becoming more difficult to find pilots and the policy of many police agencies that "they make pilots out of police officers and not police officers out of pilots," ab initio training is an opportunity for manufacturers to be more involved in law enforcement training.
"I think that is the next step that we’re going to offer in the law enforcement area," Livingston said.