By Mark Bennett | April 6, 2018
When a dozen helicopters align in a single expanse of ground, and it’s not a flight school, it must be an air show, right? Once a year, however, in Mesa, Arizona, it is a gathering of rotary-wing pilots to refresh their acquaintances and reassert their dedication to safe flight operations.
This year the Mesa Police Department aviation unit partnered with the FAA's FAASTeam to present the unit’s 18th annual safety fly-in. Any helicopter operator is welcome to attend and, this year, there were presentations by experts in training, drones and military aviation.
Many attendees arrived in one of the dozen or so aircraft that hovered in from around the state. There were multiple law enforcement units plus emergency medical services, a flight school, a manufacturer’s demonstrator, a small turbine-powered single-seater, and the lone ex-Army Cobra flying in the state. Both covering the event from the air and attending as a participant was a local news helicopter.
Police Chief Ramon Batista welcomed those assembled to the morning’s presentations, begun by Boeing test pilot and FAA Designated Pilot Examiner Scott Tinnesand. His years of experience shone through in his presentation on common issues/misunderstandings during rotorcraft practical tests. Throughout, he stressed the importance of the FAA's "practical test standards" document for not just passing the exam, but for truly understanding the rationale and value of the standards. He referred to the document as a “little book of hidden knowledge.”
John Nunes of utility company Gresco took over and demonstrated, through slides and videos, the value of not just drones, but also of a portable system the company has for finding and identifying, on an ad-hoc basis, drones operating in defined areas. The rapidity and accuracy of its system, which is capable of providing not just the drone’s location, but also that of the operator, was remarkable. This system, which plots the locations on a map in real time, will surely become commonplace among both law enforcement and other entities tasked with protecting certain slices of the sky, such as near airports or active police/fire scenes.
U.S. Air Force Col. James Roy, an A-10 pilot, explained some of the many intricacies of military airspace in the southern Arizona region, where most helicopters operate in the state. The short version of his presentation is along the lines of, “We (Air Force aircraft) might be anywhere at any time, and we’re not usually looking for slow movers.” Caveat aviator is probably the best advice.
Held, as it has been since its inception, at the Mesa Police Department Public Safety Training Facility, the aircraft are marshaled onto the city’s 14-acre tactical driving track, adjacent to classrooms, meeting rooms, an auditorium and a “burn building” with seven-story tower.