Public Service | Police
The Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) combined its aviation assets with high technology and coordinated efforts with ground forces to protect dignitaries and the city of Pittsburgh from potentially violent anti-government demonstrators. The demonstrators were in Pittsburgh last September to protest against the G-20 Economic Summit.
Axsys Technologies V14 MSII gyro-stabilizer on the Bell 407.
Based on lessons-learned from massive damage inflicted by demonstrators at the G-20 Summit in London last April and the G-8 Summit in Seattle in 1999, the PSP trooper-pilots used specially equipped helicopters to maintain constant contact with a broad array of law enforcement officers during the conference, directing them to “hot spots” where demonstrations were in danger of getting out of control.
“The totality of our efforts kept property damage down to an estimated $50,000 with no serious injuries to anyone, compared to an excess of $1 million in damages and serious injuries at the London and Seattle conferences,” said Sgt. Jim Cochran with PSP’s Aviation and Special Services division. He was one of the pilots involved in the Summit protection program. PSP had been thoroughly briefed by an advance party from the Metropolitan London Police Department (Scotland Yard), which provided information on techniques and integrated tactics they had used.
PSP had tasked four aircraft for the detail—a Cessna 208, a Bell 407, a Bell 206L3 and an AgustaWestland A119 Koala. The 407 and A119 were equipped with special cameras and microwave downlink equipment that provided real time video surveillance to the command post and ground forces, allowing for rapid response into areas where the demonstrators were in a threatening mode.
“The downlinks also quashed a lot of false reports. We were able to keep our ground resources where they were needed as opposed to sending them out on bogus reports. If we got a report that there were about 1,000 people in a specific area breaking windows, we could have an aircraft overhead almost immediately to either confirm or deny the activity,” he said. “We had several instances [in support of ground forces] such as monitoring the presence of an individual who was responsible for a large number of broken windows and a big portion of the $50,000 property damage. We directed ground resources to his location and he was subsequently taken into custody.” Cochran said that intelligence feedback indicated that the airborne presence “kept the crowd acting a little more responsible than if we hadn’t been there. Everybody thinks we are looking at them, whether we are or not.”
Key to the constant monitoring was the equipment placed on the helicopters. The PSP had Axsys V-14 cameras from Axsys Technologies and FLIR 8500 infrared cameras installed, along with microwave downlink equipment from Carlisle, Pa.-based RF Central. The aircraft were also equipped with a mapping program from AeroComputers of Oxnard, Calif. “This was very important,” Cochran said.
“The mapping program was integrated with the cameras so that it showed on the map exactly where the camera was pointing.” The 407 was also equipped with Tyler Special Operations Platforms (TSOP) that allowed SWAT teams to be moved rapidly into any particularly dangerous hot spots. Paradigm Aerospace Corp. (PAC), based in Mt. Pleasant, Pa, installed and integrated the systems, and provide helicopter support.
A critical aspect of the operation was the rapid response from the FAA and the companies involved, Cochran said. “The G-20 only announced that it was coming to Pittsburgh in late April, and we could only really get started in the planning phase in July. So we had a pretty tight timeline. What was particularly important was the assistance and attitude of the FAA and companies such as Paradigm in getting us prepared with all the equipment installed.”
A major asset was the FAA’s Allegheny County Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) in getting the newly installed equipment cleared for flight, he said. “We did a lot of installation on a temporary STC or a 337 process, so the FAA really came through for us, helping us get the paperwork through the system.”
PAC Director of Maintenance Ed Wahl stated that the short working time available “necessitated that the FAA have a person on-site to speed approvals. [FAA avionics inspector] Mike Shannon of the Allegheny FSDO located himself at Paradigm and coordinated with [FSDO Manager] Wendy Grimm and Dave Milo back at their Pittsburgh office. They, in turn, coordinated approvals with the FAA offices in New York and these came full-circle back to Paradigm.”
The PSP aviation unit has 33 trooper-pilots and three civilian maintenance personnel, headed by Section Commander Capt. Todd Johnson. The unit logged roughly 120 hours total during the financial summit. “We went operational on the 19th and closed down the operation on the 26th, the day after the conference ended,” Cochran said.
PSP AgustaWestland A119 and Bell 206L3 at Allegheny County Airport.