Air Support Frequently Asked Questions

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Question: Why is the helicopter flying in circles over the same area?

Answer: We may be flying in support of officers on the ground, conducting search and rescue operations, or looking at something suspicious. We may also be training new aircrew members, or conducting currency training for experienced aircrews. The duties of aircrew members are demanding and require constant training, we train by responding to actual patrol calls for service, or mock calls at random locations.

Question: What do I do if I am lost/in-distress and a helicopter is searching for me?

Answer: Stay where you are, or with your vehicle, aircrews will begin searching in the last area that you were known to be. During the day, if you see the helicopter, stand in an open area and make as much movement as you can, such as waving your arms or waving a bright-colored object in the air. At night, if you are with your vehicle, turn your headlights and emergency flashers on. Otherwise, stand in the open and wave a flashlight or mobile phone screen towards the aircraft. Aircrews using night vision goggles can see even dim lights from miles away.

Question: Why does a helicopter keep flying over my home?

Answer: Our aircraft respond to calls by orbiting the scene, causing the aircraft to fly over streets and homes that are not directly involved in the police activity. You may want to stay inside, lock the doors and turn on exterior lights if it appears there is police activity is in your neighborhood. You can call dispatch at 334-6622 and inquire about police activity in your area.

Question: Can the FLIR see through the walls or windows of my house?

Answer: No. Infrared technology is passive and non-intrusive, and can only see differences in temperature. Thermal imagers can only see heat radiated or reflected by the surface of an object. Windows reflect heat, and walls are insulators of heat, so the FLIR cannot see inside structures or vehicles.

Question: How high/fast do you normally fly when you patrol?

Answer: Patrol altitude is about 500 feet above ground level (AGL) at 60-70mph. When we orbit a scene, it is at 800 to 1200 AGL at about 70mph. There are times when we do fly lower during emergencies, to investigate something suspicious, or to make field landings.

Question: How much is the helicopter worth?

Answer: Each helicopter is worth about $400,000, the mission equipment adds about another $500,000 to the value, bringing the total to about $900,000 per aircraft. The aircraft and all mission equipment were paid for by the federal government.

Question: Do you give ride alongs in your aircraft?

Answer: Unfortunately we cannot. Because our aircraft were acquired under a federal program, we are subject to many restrictions. One of those restrictions is that we cannot carry passengers that are not required to complete the mission.

Question: Do you have radar to track the speed of cars?

Answer: No. We do not use radar; however, the aircrew can use the camera and map system to track vehicles on the ground. Onboard software automatically calculates average vehicle speed over a distance, which is accurate and court defensible.

Question: Why is pointing lasers at aircraft so dangerous?

Answer: Lasers are high energy focused light beams that, even when invisible to the human eye, can cause temporary or permanent blindness. This could potentially blind a pilot resulting in loss of control of the aircraft and a fatal crash. Even pen lasers are dangerous. There have been a rash of laser pointing incidents at aircraft in the last few years and the FBI has aggressively prosecuted these cases, resulting in lengthy prison sentences. In addition, shining spotlights, shooting fireworks, shooting firearms, or pointing firearms at aircraft, or the threat of doing so, are also felony state or federal crimes. The FBI and district attorney work with the Sheriff’s Office to prosecute these cases.

Question: What do you do if the engine quits?

Answer: The rotor automatically disengages from the engine and the aircraft begins descending. As the helicopter descends, the airflow moving up through the main rotor keeps it spinning, much like a blowing through a pinwheel. This is called autorotation. Energy is stored in the spinning rotor, like a flywheel. The pilot has full control of the aircraft and is able to maneuver to the best landing site. When the aircraft nears the ground, the pilot uses the stored energy in the rotating blades to slow the aircraft and make a safe landing. All helicopter pilots are trained to make autorotation landings.

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