Air Beat Magazine: July - August 2006


July - August 2006

Articles denoted by ** are available to 
APSA Members only.

Tactfully Communicating Tactics 
Air Support to K-9 Operations**

Tactical Descent**

Handlers & Helos Team Up**

NYPD’s Air Sea Rescue Teams

Flying Without Wings

NYPD’s Air Sea Rescue Teams

By Jon Goldin
New York Police Dept., Aviation Unit

One of the things that sets the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD’s) Aviation Unit apart from others is its dedication to air sea rescue. Anytime there is a report of a boat in distress or a person in the water, the Air Sea Rescue team responds.

The NYPD has been operating Bell 412s for this purpose since 1986, staffing the helicopter with two pilots, a crew chief and two scuba divers. Two police divers are assigned 24 hours, seven days a week to the aviation unit for this purpose. The crew chief is a sworn maintenance technician who is responsible for the main cabin of the helicopter and assisting the divers, as well as operating the hoist to retrieve them or a victim. Crew chiefs also receive medical training to be able to administer first aid.

Custom rear-facing seats made to accommodate the air tank of a diver are installed, allowing the divers to don their dry suit and all equipment while en route to the scene. During an air sea rescue, the co-pilot will be in contact with either an NYPD harbor boat or the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and gather as much information about the incident as possible. Oftentimes, information will be taken over the phone by the aviation base and relayed to the helicopter.

Once on scene, the divers will decide if their deployment is needed. Through hand signals, they can request a rescue basket be lowered to them or strop-style harness. Upon completion of their task, they are either hoisted back aboard the helicopter or aboard a NYPD harbor launch.

Once the helicopter returns to its base at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, it receives a thorough washing by the flight crew. The saltwater environment is highly conducive to corrosion. It should be noted that the NYPD has the only full-time police scuba team in the country, which is entirely devoted to dive operations.

The NYPD Aviation Unit also has responded well out of their jurisdiction. Since the USCG closed its air station in Brooklyn in the summer of 1998 and moved south to Atlantic City, NJ, NYPD Aviation has been more active in offshore air sea rescue jobs. They are very much a regional asset in the New York area.

Many times the USCG will ask the NYPD if they can pick up a vessel in distress call due to a delayed response time. On several occasions, Air Sea Rescue has found themselves 20 miles from shore in the Atlantic Ocean in less than ideal conditions. The calls come in more frequently between May and October, when there is an abundance of boating activity in the New York City area, but Air Sea Rescue runs full-time, 365 days a year.

The aviation unit has been doing these kinds of rescues since the early 1930s, when it operated its original, pontoon-equipped fixed-wings. Rescues were accomplished in the unit’s early days of helicopter operation with fixed-float Bell 47s. The rescues weren’t sophisticated by any means; oftentimes, it was just a copilot throwing a life ring attached to a rope toward the victim.

In the early 1980s, if a call for a water rescue job came up, one of the unit’s Huey B models would fly to wherever the nearest department divers were able to be picked up, and then they would fly to the incident. This was time-consuming and often got them on scene too late to do anything. It was around the mid-1980s that the decision was made to commit to an Air Sea Rescue program. That’s when two divers were assigned to the hangar with their gear alongside them, ready to go.

Today, Air Sea Rescue operates three 412s (two marked, one unmarked), and each is equipped with an external hoist. When the aviation unit went to 24-hour operations in 1988, divers were assigned to 12-hour shifts. When the 412 was selected as a replacement for the Huey, it was designed primarily around the air sea rescue role. The unit is now operating its fifth 412; each one has been upgraded for this mission with improved avionics and night vision capabilities.


Flying Without Wings

By Capt. Brent Barlow
Tactical Team Commander
Doña Ana County Sheriff’s Department Special Response Team

Many larger metropolitan areas have full-time aviation units consisting of several aircraft, both fixed- and rotary-wing. However, for agencies such as the Doña Ana Sheriff’s Office, having a dedicated aviation unit and aircraft is not monetarily feasible. They have, however, found a way for their tactical teams to utilize aviation assets for special operations.

The oña Ana County Sheriff’s Department Special Response Team, located in Las Cruces, NM is the second largest sheriff’s department in the state and serves a county population of approximately 180,000 citizens. The region borders the metropolitan area of El Paso, TX and the international border to Mexico.

The Doña Ana Sheriff’s Office Special Response Tactical Team has an extremely versatile tool in their police toolbox by being able to deploy aerially. But, how can a police department’s tactical team be airborne without assets?

Located in El Paso is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Air and Marine Units, which now includes the Legacy U.S. Customs Air and Marine Operations and the Legacy U.S. Border Patrol Air Operations. Doña Ana has access to the CBP’s two UH-60 Blackhawks, one UH-1 Huey, six OH-6s, five A-Star AS350s, one Cessna 182, one PA18-180 Super Cub, three BE200 King Airs and three Citation II C-550 fixed-wing aircraft. CBP’s primary responsibility is to support customs and border protection missions, but it also provides an air platform to area tactical teams during special operations and high-risk patrol operations.

Before utilizing an air component that belongs to an outside agency, all of the respective players must understand exactly how and under what circumstances the aircraft will be utilized. This will probably include the drafting of memorandums of understanding (MOU) when dealing with another agency’s aircraft in order to protect all those that will participate in training and operations. The MOU at a minimum should cover associated shared costs, liabilities, mission types, safety issues and administrative protocols.

Training is the next step in integrating a foreign air asset into a tactical plan. New members to the Doña Ana Special Response Team are trained by the CBP officers and pilots on safety issues related to the aircraft and aircraft operation. Tactical instruction includes classroom lesson plans, safety training and actual tarmac and live flight drills. The tarmac drills include practicing entering and exiting the Blackhawk while utilizing the aircraft for cover prior to approaching a target objective.

Advanced training applications with the Blackhawk include live fire assaults on targets after being deployed from the aircraft at a "training target," which is usually found on the sheriff’s office range (open air assault) or directed at a shoothouse which acts as a live fire environment for solid structure assaults. Other advanced training scenarios include deployment operations during nighttime hours, vehicle assaults utilizing the aircraft as a blocking instrument, deploying the tactical element from the aircraft to the target vehicle(s) and fast rope and rappel insertions.

The leadership of both the aircrew and the tactical team must keep all participants fresh on proper deployment procedures, the transport of tactical team K-9s, medevacs and various communication issues. These things should be addressed in training, not in the middle of a high-risk warrant service. Just because a tactical team has deployed once or twice from a specific aircraft does not mean that they will stay proficient months or years in the future without reoccurring and meaningful training.

Doña Ana's operational plans include a specific section that addresses the potential need for air assets. If it is determined that there is a need for an aerial platform during a special operation, the department first determines what specific role the aircraft will play.

The CBP UH-60 aircraft fulfills the role of a tactical team transport unit very effectively. It has enough cargo space for a full flight crew and eight tactical operators plus equipment.

Once a tactical team has been deployed, the aircraft can then function as an aerial observation platform providing valuable intelligence to tactical units on the ground. In the event of an injury during the operation, the air ship can also serve to quickly transport patients to a regional trauma center.

If your agency has a need for air support during tactical operations or beyond your current capability, check with other aviation units in your area. Oftentimes, they may not know that there is a specific type of need that they can help fulfill for your agency. Having an air asset that is capable of assisting your tactical team is an invaluable building block in the pyramid of developing a successful and proficient tactical or special operations group.