Currently, the Aviation Unit has 68 members, comprising 38 Pilots/TFOs and 23 Mechanics/Crew Chiefs. “All of our Pilots, TFOs and Crew Chiefs are full time sworn uniformed members of the service,” clarified Lieutenant Hernandez.
The unit has seven helicopters and one fixed-wing airplane in operation, with the fleet consisting of two Bell 412EP for Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, four Bell 429s for patrol missions, Quick Response Force (QRF) missions, administrative duties, transport missions, etc., and one Bell 407 for training. The airplane is a Cessna Caravan 208EX that is sed for counterterrorism and other missions.
“Most of our missions are comprised of patrol as well as SAR missions,” Lieutenant Hernandez told AirMed&Rescue. “However, we also routinely perform various other types of missions including Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Mobile Airborne Radiological Surveys (MARS), firefighting missions (Bambi Bucket operations and air recon for the Fire Department), medevac operations, air support for large-scale events and high-profile visits to NYC.
“We work closely and train with other units in the Special Operations Division (Emergency Service Unit (ESU), Harbor, etc.) and our missions are constantly evolving as we recognize new needs in different areas of operation. We have the capability and routinely train for tactical delivery of specialized members (insertions of ESU members via fast ropes or rappels) for active shooter events and other dangerous situations.”
The typical crew configuration changes depending on the type of mission undertaken
The typical crew configuration changes depending on the type of mission undertaken:
- SAR: Pilot, TFO, Crew Chief and two Scuba Divers
- Patrol mission: Pilot and TFO
- QRF mission: Pilot, TFO, Crew Chief, Rescue Specialist and Tac Medic
- Firefighting air recon mission: Pilot, TFO and FDNY Battalion Chief
- Admin. transport mission: Pilot and TFO
Equipped and ready: Lights, cameras, avionics
NYPD aircraft employ the MX10 & MX15 Wescam cameras, which have HD video, infrared and low light modes that work with in conjunction with overlaid information from the Churchill mapping software. The cameras also provide HD video downlink to headquarters and mobile receive sights when necessary. For night operations, pilots wear night vision goggles and aircraft are equipped with the Trakka Beam search lights for illumination.
NYPD aircraft employ the MX10 & MX15 Wescam cameras, which have HD video, infrared and low light mode
“Currently all of our aircraft (except the Bell 407) have very capable auto pilot features (four axis),” said Lieutenant Hernandez. “Additionally, we also utilize GPS systems (Garmin 430, Garmin 530, Garmin 650, Garmin 750 and G1000) for navigation. The only aircraft in the fleet not IFR rated is the Bell 407. We utilize Technosonic and Cobham radios for air-to-ground communications when providing air support. We also use Jupiter Avionics’ Wireless Headset adapters, which enable the aircrew (pilots and crew chief chiefs) to communicate inside and outside of the aircraft. We are always looking for newer/better technology and make continuous upgrades when able.”
After 9/11, the unit was given a Bell412 with increased ISR equipment, but this was later replaced by a Cessna 208B Caravan. “The mission profile changed drastically where a fixed-wing aircraft was deemed more suitable for such assignments (longer range, longer on station time, higher operating altitudes, etc),” explained Lieutenant Hernandez, when asked what drove the change.
Training and MRO capabilities
The NYPD Aviation Unit has Bell 429 flight simulator, which is an exact replica of its Bell 429 aircraft, which is used for advanced flight instruction (instrument flight training and emergency procedures). “We are consistently making software and hardware upgrades as they become available,” he added.
Multitalented MRO crews
MRO is performed in house for the Aviation Unit, with mechanics also doubling as crew chiefs. Pointing out the benefits of this approach, Lieutenant Hernandez told AirMed&Rescue: “The main benefit is having the ability to talk directly to the pilots whenever there is an issue with an aircraft and also knowing the aircraft better than a third-party service company, would which undoubtedly result in shorter turnaround times to return an aircraft to service. Having a mechanic onboard the aircraft provides an additional benefit by being able to troubleshoot any issues that may arise while airborne. Lastly, it ensures the mechanics are always engaged and training to become the best in their field. Our crew chiefs are all certified Emergency Medical Technicians and also qualified in the use of heavy weapons in addition to being fully certified airframe and powerplant mechanics.”
crews must be prepared to function over both a busy urban area and seascape; and there are particular challenges of working in such extreme – and different – environments
With New York being a coastal city, crews must be prepared to function over both a busy urban area and seascape; and there are particular challenges of working in such extreme – and different – environments. “The challenges we face going from the city environment to the ocean environment are pretty significant, including a loss of visual references, loss of illumination during hours of darkness, rapidly changing weather, sea state, water temperatures, lack of suitable emergency landing areas, fuel considerations, etc., all of which make it much more difficult for the aircrews to complete their missions. Thankfully, we train extensively and are properly equipped to perform these missions confidently and safely,” said Lieutenant Hernandez.
The Aviation Unit’s helicopters respond to calls within a 60-mile radius of NY City, filling a need that arose when the USCG moved its air operations out of the area. How has the unit responded to the additional pressures and expectations of this move? With aplomb, according to Lieutenant Hernandez: “The Aviation Unit has been able to answer the call with minimal impact to operations and always represents the Department as well as the City of New York favorably. Our members feel honored to help on mutual aid requests from neighboring jurisdictions.”
Hopes for the future of aerial law enforcement
“We will always strive to remain one of the premier airborne law enforcement units in the world,” Lieutenant Hernandez told AirMed&Rescue. “We will always seek upgrades in aircraft, technology and equipment, when available. We are constantly recruiting additional members to fill vacancies created by normal attrition rates (mostly retirements and promotions). Lastly, with new aircraft and equipment also comes additional expenses and so we are constantly asking for much needed budget increases.”