Are you a sworn police officer?
All pilots within the Phoenix Police Air Support Unit (ASU) are sworn officers. An officer must serve three years as a patrol officer before becoming eligible to transfer to the unit. Flight training is conducted from within the unit using our own CFIs and CFIIs, who are also sworn officers. During my first year as a Phoenix police officer I obtained my private pilot’s license to help build the foundation for future flying training. The course spans nine months – there is a lot of information to soak up for people with no previous exposure to airborne law enforcement or aviation in general. Since then all training has been conducted within the Phoenix Police ASU. I am now a certified tactical flight officer for both rotor and fixed-wing aircraft, as well as a commercial/instrument rated pilot for our fixed-wing fleet.
What are your duties?
My job title within the unit is “Police Pilot”. My flight duties include acting as pilot in command of one of our four fixed-wing surveillance/transport aircraft. At the onset of each shift I am responsible for preflight action of each available aircraft. Our missions include but are not limited to airborne surveillance, regional transport missions and assisting adjacent law enforcement agencies. I also act as the “tactical flight officer” where I am responsible for conveying our observations with the ground units.
How many aircraft and personnel are in your unit?
Our fleet is comprised of 13 aircraft in total: nine helicopters and four fixed-wing aircraft. They are an AugustaWestland A109E, three A119s, five Eurocopter AS350 B3s, a Pilatus PC-12, a Cessna P210R, a 182 and a 172. Our unit consists of 28 pilots, nine maintenance personnel, two administration personnel and three police supervisors.
What was your most intense mission?
I remember conducting a night-time mountain rescue acting as the tactical flight officer in our A109E. The ceilings were low due to a cold front passing over the valley, which also resulted in high winds. We were called to rescue two children aged 14 and 10 stuck on a small cliff on a steep mountain range. During the rescue the winds made it challenging for my partner to hold the helicopter in a stable hover. I co-ordinated the rescue with technical rescue technicians from the Phoenix Fire Department who were on board the aircraft and hoisted both children into the cabin. I was more scared and nervous during this mission than at any time during my years as a patrol officer in West Phoenix.
What’s the most dangerous part?
A dozen aircraft in our fleet are single-engined and we constantly fly them over a populated city. It is engrained into our training that we should constantly look for a place to land the aircraft should we sustain an engine failure. Added to that is the risk of the aircraft being shot at. This happens rarely, but the threat always exists. Laser illuminations, however, are the biggest ground-based menace for us. I have been hit three times by laser strikes which can temporarily impair your vision and ruin your night.
Does the heat agree with you?
My least favorite part of the job would be flying in an aircraft with inadequate or no air conditioning during the summer. Its Phoenix, it’s a hot and bumpy flight, every flight, eight months out of the year!