Air Beat Magazine: September - October 2003


September - October 2003

Adding Technology To Your Fleet
Safety Considerations

Tools of the Trade

Shark On Attack
America’s First Armed Airborne Unit to Protect Our Coast

Shrinking Bandwidths In Radio Communications
How To Select & Program Public Safety Transceivers

Creating Airborne Liaisons
A "Foreign Exchange" Program for Officers

Adding Technology To Your Fleet
Safety Considerations

By Jay Fuller, APSA Safety Coordinator

Many of us have recently returned from the annual convention where we had the opportunity to view much of the new technology available. There is a lot of amazing stuff in the marketplace including positioning systems coupled with cockpit displays so you can find street addresses; wire avoidance systems that detect the fields generated by the wires; FLIR/video systems with incredible sensitivity and definition that have minimal upkeep requirements; communications radios that can accommodate virtually any useable frequency - and so much more! 
All of these systems enhance the ability of our aircraft to act as force multipliers in tactical situations, but they also have to be incorporated into our operations in an appropriate manner. This invariably adds more work to the process, but since it involves familiarity with new toys, the work is not that onerous.

Increased technology in our aircraft is not without pitfalls, however. An increased technological capability requires increased training, which is not always fully accomplished. There is also an increased tendency on the part of management and aircrews to elicit more results out of our missions, pushing the operating envelope even further.

From personal experience, I have found a few guidelines I would recommend to any law enforcement aviation unit that is adding equipment to its fleet.


If you have more than one aircraft and are going to procure a new radio, display or cockpit device, plan for enough units to retrofit all aircraft. Fleet standardization in general (and cockpit standardization in particular) is critical to effective, safe crew utilization. The airlines and the military spend considerable time, effort, and money to insure that their aircraft cockpits are virtually identical.

The fleet renovation program I was involved with just before retiring from the New York State Police Aviation Unit is a perfect example. We had a mixed fleet of older, relatively unsophisticated aircraft (by current standards) with no two cockpits the same. For the most part, individual pilots would routinely fly the same few aircraft, but in those instances where an aircrew was thrust into a different airframe, the first half of the mission was spent re-familiarizing with a relatively basic aircraft and avionics combination.

During the fleet transition, I climbed into our third Bell 430, never having flown the aircraft before, and took off on a mission. Having completed Flight Safety International simulator training, Bell Helicopter aircraft training, and 50 hours of operational experience in the first two aircraft, I was totally familiar in the third bird. The aircraft in our fleet were all virtually the same.

If you’re adding a special mission piece of equipment and it’s not necessary in all aircraft, you should investigate crew specialization or additional mission currency requirements for aircrews operating the equipment. Or, you may need to reevaluate acquisition in the first place.

Equipment Acquisition

In the transition mentioned above, it was my first exposure to LCD displays and vertical tape indicators. For the first 15 hours of simulator and cockpit procedures training for the new aircraft, I was a dog watching a television set. I had only a vague idea as to what the display presentations were telling me, even though there was considerably more information available. For me, the switch from round analogue gauges was major. After my 50 hours of aircraft time, however, I was as comfortable as ever — perhaps even more so since the engine and navigation displays provided so much more information and in a well thought out, user-friendly manner.

Most manufacturers will provide the basic training necessary for operation of their equipment. And, in some cases, third party computer based training programs are available for commonly found sophisticated avionics units. However, for most cockpit upgrades, it is advantageous to assign an aviation unit member to become the "resident expert". This person can focus on the equipment, develop an in-depth knowledge and be available to answer questions from other unit members, or train new crewmembers. Further, mandatory crew time spent on training aids or powered up static aircraft can significantly improve understanding. Even if the resources for professional simulator training are not available, you can still get crews through that first 50 hours in a training mode.

The goal is to become familiar with the normal operation of any new piece of equipment so aircrews can operate complex panel controls almost automatically, leaving plenty of brainpower for aircraft operation and mission related decisions.

Utilize Training Suggestions

When our unit first checked out in the Bell 430, the factory instructors were adamant that we use the autopilot all the time. The autopilot? All the time? On a tactical flight? But, in fact, that was a great idea.

With the autopilot controlling attitude, altitude, airspeed and course, the pilot is freed up for other good activities like monitoring instruments, clearing for other aircraft/obstructions, and mission related decision making. In fact, the hairier the situations get, the more valuable that advice becomes.

New equipment will often have many uses beyond what was initially envisioned. Constant use in the cockpit will provide the opportunity to explore those uses and help maintain or enhance crew familiarity with equipment operation. This should be no chore because we’re all technically oriented or we wouldn’t be in this profession.

Safety Considerations

At one time, the military and commercial airlines were the first operators to purchase the newest and best equipment. Today, the civil market is on the leading edge. Because of the exotic mission demands of tactical law enforcement aviation, we are seeing the newest, most capable equipment first. For this reason, it’s easy to become totally immersed in the new and emerging cockpit add-on’s, discounting much of the other equipment available.

Flight simulation systems are becoming increasingly capable and affordable. If hours are limited because of budget or weather, simulation training can be nearly as good as actual flying. Further, emergency procedures can be practiced to proficiency without risking a valuable airframe.

Protective crew gear and underwater breathing devices (a must if you have regular or extended over-water mission requirements) are also getting better and becoming more readily available.

Bottom line, when evaluating procurement of new technologies, the entire realm of applicable resources must be reviewed in order to come up with the best additions for your unit.

Technology is good. It can allow us to do our jobs more effectively and safely. New technologies can make us even more of a force multiplier for our agencies than we are already. But the evaluation, acquisition, and implementation of new technology must be done with all the appropriate foresight and effort.

Tools of the Trade

By Lisa A. Wright
and Christopher M. Dorso

Technological progress allowed the development of flight from relatively basic machines to complex vehicles that today can fly through the air and into space. Historians 500 years from now may well characterize successful human flight as the most significant single technology of the 20th century. It has fundamentally reshaped our world. These advances in technology occurred in every system, component, and tool relating to flight-from those that are part of the aircraft itself to those that are on the ground.

How do these advances happen? Sometimes all it takes is intuition or a flash of brilliance. But usually, the engineers and designers who were most successful in furthering the technology used a systematic approach. Simply, they first recognized that something needed to be done. Then, the engineer or designer would propose ways to accomplish this by observing what seemed to work in nature or through documented technical knowledge.

To advance a single aircraft element is not a simple process but requires considerable theoretical study, ground-based analysis, and testing both on the ground and in flight before something new is actually put into commercial use.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the advancements of several technologies that have helped airborne law enforcement aviation fulfill its special role within policing.

Infrared, Imaging & Surveillance Technology

Sir William Herschel, an astronomer, discovered infrared in 1800. He built his own telescopes and was, therefore, very familiar with lenses and mirrors. Knowing that sunlight was made up of all the colors of the spectrum and that it was also a source of heat, Herschel wanted to find out which colors were responsible for heating objects. He devised an experiment using a prism, paperboard, and thermometers with blackened bulbs where he measured the temperatures of the different colors.

Herschel observed an increase in temperature as he moved the thermometer from violet to red in the rainbow created by sunlight passing through the prism. He found that the hottest temperature was actually beyond red light. The radiation causing this heating was not visible; Herschel termed this invisible radiation "calorific rays." Today, we know it as infrared.

An infrared camera is a non-contact device that detects infrared energy (heat) and converts it into an electronic signal, which is then processed to produce a thermal image on a video monitor and perform temperature calculations. Heat sensed by an infrared camera can be very precisely quantified, or measured, allowing you to not only monitor thermal performance, but also identify and evaluate the relative severity of heat-related subject.

Recent innovations, particularly detector technology, the incorporation of built-in visual imaging, automatic functionality, and infrared software development, deliver more cost-effective thermal analysis solutions than ever before.

There are many companies in the marketplace that build their systems specifically for law enforcement applications such as surveillance, reconnaissance, search and rescue, drug interdiction, patrol and environmental monitoring.

For instance, FLIR Systems introduced a family of three lightweight, mission specific, multi-sensor thermal imagers this year. The Ultra 8000 is designed for high-pressure pursuit and patrol situations, the Ultra 8500 for advanced multi-role scenarios, and the Ultra 8500FW for fixed-wing applications and long range, long duration missions.

The triple payload capability of the Ultra 8000 family of systems features a digital high-definition infrared video processor for clear, sharp imagery even in extreme climates. An auto-tracker keeps the system on target, minimizing fatigue and freeing the operator to tend to other tasks. And, an optional illuminator pinpoints ground targets, enhancing ground force coordination when used with night vision goggles.

At nine inches and twenty-nine pounds, the fully sealed Ultra 8000 Series turrets are compact. Its small size enables increased loads, improved fuel savings for longer flights, lower drag and excellent ground clearance while providing advanced stabilization to deliver clear, detailed imagery.
GyroCam Systems has expanded their technology as well this year. The heart of the GyroCam Triple Sensor is a patent-pending Day and NightVision system.

A three-chip high-resolution color camera provides crisp imagery during daylight hours and a Gen III NightVision intensifier can turn night into day. It couples thermal imagery with high-quality color and NightVision video to provide an outstanding triple sensor system for surveillance. An optional Infrared LASER Illuminator allows surveillance in absolute no light conditions. The laser is invisible to the unaided eye, but acts like a NightVision searchlight, providing effective nighttime illumination to 2,000 feet.

For those missions where only infrared can be used, the 8 to 14 micron thermal imager captures vivid images that can be viewed simultaneously by the operator. The complete system includes the stabilized sensor platform, an ergonomic laptop control console or kneeboard control console, and an interface unit.

The all-weather GyroCam requires minimal maintenance and no daily setup. Helicopter nose mounts are available for the Bell Jet Ranger, Long Ranger, Astar, Twinstar, EC-135 and the BO105, as well as a variety of fixed wing aircraft.

GyroCam Systems has expanded their technology as well this year. The heart of the GyroCam Triple Sensor is a patent-pending Day and NightVision system.

A three-chip high-resolution color camera provides crisp imagery during daylight hours and a Gen III NightVision intensifier can turn night into day. It couples thermal imagery with high-quality color and NightVision video to provide an outstanding triple sensor system for surveillance. An optional Infrared LASER Illuminator allows surveillance in absolute no light conditions. The laser is invisible to the unaided eye, but acts like a NightVision searchlight, providing effective nighttime illumination to 2,000 feet.

Another manufacturer, Israel Aircraft Industries, has a portable observation system called the POP200. The system includes a high performance Focal Plane Array thermal imager, a color CCD TV camera, an automatic video tracking unit and laser pointer.

The POP200 has been purchased by various law enforcement agencies and is currently being tested and evaluated by additional police agencies for use on their helicopters. For example, the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department in Pensacola, Florida, procured the system at the beginning of the year, installing it on its OH-58 helicopters.

The POP200 is based on a unique plug-in slice concept. The slice contains the optronic sensors, which can be easily replaced in the field within minutes without the need for alignment or adjustment. The slice concept also allows for easy upgrades whenever new sensor slices are introduced.

A single observer, using a hand control unit and a video monitor, operates the POP200 system. It can be linked with an on board high intensity search light, the NIGHTSUN II (built by Spectrolab). The system’s electronics are contained within the POP200 turret thus allowing for easy mounting and maintenance. Installation on the helicopter is performed with the standard dovetail mount affixed to an external side mount. The total weight is less than 35 pounds.

Spectrolab’s SX-16 Nightsun and SX-5 Starburst searchlight systems have become the industry standard in over 46 countries worldwide. Now installed on more than 30 types of helicopters, maritime patrol aircraft, as well as ground, vehicle and shipboard applications, Spectrolab searchlights are easy to install, easy to maintain and built to last.

How Night Vision Tools Work

Image enhancement technology is what most people think of when you talk about night vision. In fact, image enhancement systems are normally called night vision devices (NVDs). Night vision technology enables you to see objects clearly at night at distances of up to several hundred yards in the absence of any artificial light. People, buildings, vehicles and details of the landscape viewed through a modern night vision system appear almost as if illuminated while the same objects viewed with a naked eye would appear only as indistinct shadows (or won’t be visible at all).

In order to understand how any night vision device works, compare it to a video camera, but a very special one with an extremely high sensitivity to light. All night vision systems provide the viewer with electronically enhanced viewing. When you use night vision goggles, you are not actually viewing the scene before you, but instead you are viewing a video image of that scene. The heart of any night vision system is an image intensifier tube.

NVDs rely on an image intensifier tube to collect and amplify infrared and visible light. The image intensifier tube changes photons to electrons and back again. A cool thing to note is that every single image intensifier tube is put through rigorous tests to see if it meets the requirements set forth by the military. Tubes that do are classified as "milspec". Tubes that fail to meet military requirements in even a single category are classified as "comspec".

The intensifiers are rated as either first, second or third generation. Image intensifier tubes basically consist of a photocathode, which converts light images to electron images (these, in turn can be amplified) and a micro channel plate (in the 2nd and 3rd generations), converts the flow of electrons back to a light image.

The first generation image intensifier tubes, known as GEN 1, use simple grid shaped electrodes to accelerate the electrons through the tube. The second and third generations of tubes (GEN 2 and GEN 3) use complex MCP (micro channel plates) that not only accelerate the electrons pulled from the photocathode, but also increase their number. This increased charge then causes the phosphors to glow more brightly in response to the light reflected.

Hoffman Engineering has worked with image intensifier manufacturers for 25 years to support precision testing of image tubes and systems. The essence of these test systems is the ability to establish very low light levels at proper color temperature and to monitor and correct as required. Proper photometric design and calibration are imperative in assuring repeatable results when testing image intensifiers.

The ANV-126 Night Vision Device Test System is a field portable test system that allows for complete testing and maintenance of all types of night vision devices. The test set provides accurate checks for resolution, image quality, infinity focus, and power consumption. The ANV-126 is designed for use at all service and repair levels and is used by all military branches, both domestic and foreign.

Night vision goggles are becoming more prevalent and are proving to be mission critical for ever increasing law enforcement applications. A whole host of products are now NVG compatible including instrument panels, lighting systems, camera and video recording devices, stabilized binoculars, and maintenance and avionic hardware.

One such product is the 9900BX Traffic Advisory System and the Color Multi-Hazard Display (MHD), which enhances the pilot’s ability to see the display during critical light-limited missions, while still allowing for daytime viewing. Ryan International’s NVG display meets the Green B Specifications providing the broadest application for most NVG equipped aircraft. The NVG filter is integrated with the MHD bezel for permanent mounting.

Microwave Video Downlink Technology

Microwave downlinks provide critical video intelligence in support of law enforcement coordination and crisis management. Providing real-time aerial imagery of an unfolding tactical situation to command staff on the ground enhances decision-making and response capabilities, saving lives and property. Emerging digital technology and a favorable regulatory landscape promises to change the way in which airborne video support is conducted.

Downlinks range in complexity from simple installations designed to provide short-range transmission to broadcast quality systems featuring steerable antenna systems and mountain top relay sites. No matter the sophistication of the system, analog video transmission suffers from the effects of multipath.

Multipath is a condition that exists when the microwave signal from the helicopter reflects off of obstacles in the environment (buildings, trees, vehicles, and even the ground) and arrives at the receiver antenna later in time. The result is an analog video signal will fade, tear, or roll even when adequate signal level is available. Multipath is an unavoidable aspect of microwave transmission.
Tracking antennas can help to minimize the effects of multipath in analog transmission by focusing the energy into a narrow beam. However, these systems are expensive and beyond the budget of most law enforcement agencies. The solution to multipath lies with a new microwave transmission technology known as Coded Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplex (COFDM).

COFDM Digital Microwave Downlinks

COFDM is a digital modulation technique that provides immunity to the problems associated with multipath. With COFDM, analog video from the helicopter camera is converted into a digital data stream and compressed. Using forward error correction and data interleaving techniques, the video data is spread across nearly 2,000 discrete radio frequency carriers. Conventional analog transmission uses only a single carrier for the video signal. The multi-carrier transmission format provides frequency diversity and is one reason why COFDM performs so well in a multipath environment.

COFDM microwave downlinks can provide reliable real-time video to portable and mobile ground stations. Handheld and vehicle mounted receivers can display helicopter imagery, improving the situational awareness of first responders directly involved in a tactical situation. Since the video must be digitized for transmission, digital encryption may be applied to insure that only the intended recipients are able to view the imagery. This technology excludes the media and the general public from being able to intercept tactical video from orbiting law enforcement helicopters.

COFDM brings another important dimension to law enforcement helicopter downlinks. Since the digital signal is robust in the multipath environment, it’s possible to obtain outstanding results for close-in tactical transmission using simple omni-directional antennas in the air and on the ground. Compact handheld receivers can provide officers with a birds-eye view. Low cost omni-directional antenna systems on helicopters provide excellent results in the tactical environment using COFDM. Digital transmission is more spectrum efficient than analog transmission, so it’s possible to fit more digital downlinks in available spectrum than analog downlinks, allowing more aerial video support in the tactical environment without mutual interference.

FCC Allocates New Law Enforcement Microwave Band

Frequency spectrum is an important part of microwave video downlinking. Two frequency bands accommodate helicopter video downlinks at 2.4 GHz and 6.4 GHz. The 2.4 GHz band is shared with broadcasters in most markets. Broadcasters have priority in this band over law enforcement users unless the law enforcement use involves life or death situations. News vans on-scene can completely obliterate a law enforcement downlink. The 6.4 GHz band is also used by law enforcement, however, it is a shared band and use must be coordinated with other users. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is about to make available new microwave spectrum reserved for "public safety related services."

FCC Docket No. 00-32 authorizes the frequency band of 4940 through 4990 MHz (4.9 GHz) for the exclusive use of communications by public safety organizations to support incident scene management and other missions regarding Homeland Security and protection of life and property.

This exclusive frequency allocation is designed to foster effective public safety communications and innovation in wireless services in support of public safety. The 4.9 GHz authorization permits mobile operations, fixed hotspot (incident) use, and temporary fixed links. Use of 4.9 GHz is restricted to digital communications technologies (i.e., COFDM). Legacy analog systems will not be allowed to operate in this new band.

While the 4.9 GHz allocation is a welcome step forward for law enforcement tactical communications, there are restrictions imposed on airborne operations designed to protect radio astronomy operations scattered across the nation. The FCC perceives a potential interference problem from airborne law enforcement operations, and is requiring a waiver request for airborne operations in the 4.9 GHz band. A waiver is required because airborne operations are generally prohibited in the new band. Requests will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis and must demonstrate how the proposed operation will protect other 4.9 GHz operations. In fact, this extra hurdle may not be unreasonably difficult to overcome if radio astronomy operations are not conducted nearby. The limited range of airborne microwave video downlinks may well allow waivers to be granted with few problems encountered.

Making Your Voice Heard

The most disturbing aspect of the exclusion of airborne downlink operations in the new 4.9 GHz law enforcement band is the statement by the FCC that "the relatively small number of commenters who filed comments in support of [airborne operations] suggests that there is limited interest in pursuing such operations." It may be intuitive to those in the airborne law enforcement community that video downlinks play an essential role in tactical operations, however, it not well understood by the FCC.

Clearly, the regulatory paradigm affecting airborne law enforcement operations extends beyond just the FAA. This is why APSA is important to the membership as an advocate for airborne law enforcement in all activity areas. Operational safety, training, and communications all contribute to the effectiveness of public safety airborne operations.

New Downlink Antennas

Other new technologies will further improve airborne operations of both legacy and digital transmission systems. One of the most important contributing factors to tactical downlink performance lies with the airborne and ground station antennas. Tactical law enforcement operations typically involve a helicopter orbiting over the scene transmitting imagery to command staff on the ground in the vicinity of the incident. Most helicopters with omni-directional antennas perform poorly at this task since very little energy from a conventional omni-directional antenna is directed at the ground. Most energy from an omni-directional antenna is directed at the horizon. That’s why the microwave downlink appears to work better when the helicopter is 3 miles away as compared to when it is directly overhead.

New circular polarized antenna designs incorporating bifilar spiral elements provide downward radiation as well as radiation on the horizon. This type of antenna greatly improves airborne downlink performance in the tactical environment. Since antennas act the same transmitting or receiving, the bifilar spiral is an excellent choice for tactical ground stations or mobile command posts. The correct antenna can make a substantial improvement in link performance and require only a minor investment.

The combination of new digital downlink transmission and antenna technologies coupled with a microwave band reserved for law enforcement use will revolutionize the importance, effectiveness, and utility of airborne video microwave downlinks in support of law enforcement and Homeland Security missions.

Among the companies who specialize in microwave links and antennas are Microwave Radio Communications, Broadcast Microwave Services, Navtech Systems, and Wescam L3 Communications.

Crew Training & Simulation Technology

Realistic flight simulation devices have found their way to law enforcement aviation units. A relatively small Florida agency has already acquired their simulator and another large unit in California is in the process. So, why are they turning to simulators?

Training of emergency procedures in the real aircraft can be very dangerous. A unit’s liability exposure increases when this training is done; it also increases if you don’t do the training at all. When completing a risk management assessment for the need to train emergency procedures, a viable solution incorporates flight simulation into the analysis.

The leading flight simulators of today incorporate New Technology Digital Simulation (NTDS) into their systems and these high fidelity, upgradeable products replicate all necessary flight dynamics to create a very realistic flight experience. Each and every flight crew can complete frequent, advanced training missions, either standardized or unique, as often as required.

NTDS simulators allow you to complete VFR and IFR operations of engine or tail rotor failure into full-down auto-rotations; recovery from a dynamic roll over; operating with instrument, gauge or radio failures; or piloting in adverse climate conditions such as high wind or high density altitude.

Non-pilots can be safely trained to complete the same emergency procedure techniques as the pilots, such as power-on and power-off landings. And these are just a few of the functions that can be trained within today’s simulators.

The older, expensive simulators were thought of as strictly a pilot’s trainer. Today, NTDS simulators allow Tactical Flight Officer/Observer’s to actively participate (and be evaluated) along with their pilot partner. While the pilot conducts flight duties, the TFO can assist with navigation, operate simulated thermal imaging and color camera equipment and conduct communications responsibilities. The development of Crew Resources Management (CRM) skills and currency can be completed while the flight crew trains along side one another, just like the real mission.

In the simulator when a critical in-flight emergency occurs, the flight crew reacts and develops valuable skills sets, which can be applied when flying the real aircraft. All of the training is done in a controlled and safe environment.

Training in simulators is affordable, at about $3 per hour for direct operating expenses. Training flights in a NTDS simulator can also be reviewed immediately or saved to a file. A flight crew’s performance can be documented for remediation training or to substantiate unit personnel changes as may be warranted. In addition, new prospective pilots or TFOs can be evaluated for 
less money than through traditional means.

Shark On Attack
America’s First Armed Airborne Unit to Protect Our Coast

By Lt. Graig D. Neubecker
United States Coast Guard

The United States Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) is America’s
first and only airborne law enforcement unit trained and authorized to employ Airborne Use of Force, or AUF.

Initially tasked with interdicting and stopping suspected drug-laden, high-speed vessels known as ‘go-fasts,’ HITRON has expanded their mission to include homeland security, and now staunchly patrols the front lines of America’s war on drugs and terrorism, flying specially equipped MH-68A helicopters. These aircraft employ the latest radar and FLIR sensors as well as state-of-the-art night vision goggles to pierce the night.

HITRON arms these helicopters with M-16 5.56mm rifles and M240 7.62mm machine guns for warning shots and self-protection, and the RC50 laser-sighted .50 caliber precision rifles to disable the engines of fleeing suspect vessels. The MH-68A’s are the newest helicopters in the U.S. military and are capable of cruise speeds of 140 knots. The MH-68A does not yet have an official nickname, but is referred to as the "Shark" by HITRON aircrews.

One of the most difficult law enforcement challenges that the United States faces today is stemming the tide of illegal drugs flowing into the country. This is especially true on the high seas where the United States Coast Guard is tasked with being the agency primarily responsible for intercepting suspected smugglers. For decades, the U.S. Coast Guard aircrews could do little more than track suspected drug smugglers, and often had to watch in vain as the faster go-fast vessels evaded the slower, less capable Coast Guard surface assets.

In 1998, the Coast Guard estimated that it was stopping less than ten percent of the drugs entering the United States via the sea. Spurred by these estimates, Admiral James Loy, the then Commandant, directed the Coast Guard to develop a plan to counter the go-fast threat. This gave rise to the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, which was led by Commander Mark ‘Roscoe’ Torres. Starting in late 1998, he molded a group of ten original volunteers into a cohesive and effective team. In just seven short months, he took ideas to reality as the squadron pioneered novel operating tactics and procedures and implemented the Commandant’s decision to stop the drug-laden go-fasts.

During this early test and evaluation stage of the program, HITRON intercepted and stopped all five go-fasts they encountered, (halting 2,640 pounds of cocaine, and 7,000 pounds of marijuana with a street value of over $100 million), and all 17 suspects were arrested. This five for five success rate represented a dramatic increase in go-fast seizures and resulted in a cultural change for Coast Guard aviation, setting the stage for enhanced future maritime drug interdiction efforts.

Due to their success during the test and evaluation stage, the HITRON program was proven sound and was designated a permanent Coast Guard unit. At this point, HITRON grew to 40 personnel to halt the rising tide of go-fast drug smugglers, and a requirement for eight helicopters was determined necessary to meet the cutter deployment cycles. Due to Federal contracting laws, a competitive bid was necessary to choose a permanent aircraft for the mission, and the proposal from Agusta Aircraft Corporation was selected as it represented the best value. Therefore, in March 2000, Agusta was awarded the contract to provide eight A109E Power helicopters to replace the MD900 Enforcer helicopters that HITRON had been successfully flying. The Agusta A109E Power was given the military designation of MH-68A.

Selection of this new helicopter forced HITRON to face many new challenges, as it now had to take another untested civilian helicopter and transform it into a proven, armed shipboard deployable aircraft. To make the aircraft shipboard compatible, several joint Coast Guard and U.S. Navy efforts were required. First, the U.S. Navy completed electromagnetic interference certification testing, and U.S. Navy test pilots established shipboard pitch and roll limitations. In addition, the M240 7.62mm machine gun weapon system and the RC50 .50 caliber laser-sighted rifle were field fired and certified for aerial use by the U.S Navy Surface Warfare Center.

HITRON pilots then quickly validated day and night mission tactics, formation flying, performed takeoffs and landings from the cutter and created initial flight training and aerial gunnery training syllabi to qualify the pilots and aircrew in the MH-68A. Other shipboard related procedures such as removing the blades, traversing the aircraft into the cutter’s hangar bay, and maintaining the aircraft in a saltwater environment were also addressed and successfully accomplished.

The squadron also pioneered the use of Night Vision Goggles (NVGs) for night shipboard landings; a first for the Coast Guard, a standard now being adopted Coast Guard wide. The unit also assisted in the evaluation of the latest generation of the ANVIS-9 Night Vision Goggles integrated with the ANVIS-7 heads-up display (HUD) system, and were the first operators in the world to operate the latest generation of these night vision devices.

HITRON aircrews forward deploy aboard Coast Guard cutters for 30-60 day deployments, and aircrews are typically deployed about 120 days a year total. While on deployment, the go-fasts are hunted not only by the MH-68A but also by maritime patrol aircraft (MPA) such as the HC-130H Hercules. If an MPA locates a go-fast, the HITRON crew launches from the cutter and proceeds to the go-fast intercept location. The crew then approaches the suspect vessel with weapons trained on the vessel solely for self-protection.

Once over the suspect vessel, the helicopter crew confirms the nationality or lack of nation status and whether the vessel is in fact a suspect smuggling vessel. The aircrew will then attempt to convince the boat crew to stop through the use of sirens, loud speakers, visual hand signals, and radio communications in both English and Spanish. If the vessel stops during this phase, it is boarded and searched by the cutter’s boat crew who has accompanied the chase in an "over-the-horizon" pursuit boat.

If the vessel is found to be carrying drugs, the cutter crew will take appropriate law enforcement actions. If the suspect vessel fails to stop after these numerous visual and verbal warnings, the helicopter crew will take up a firing position alongside the go-fast and fire warning shots across their bow to further compel them to stop. If the warning shots do not convince the suspects to stop, the helicopter crew prepares to disable the vessel by shooting out the go-fast’s engines. Using precision, laser-sighted .50 caliber rifles, the helicopter crew positions themselves alongside the fleeing go-fast for disabling shots.

Most of the go-fasts have multiple engines, and the helicopter crew will continue to shoot out these engines until the suspects stop or they are forced to stop. Once stopped, the vessel will be boarded by the Coast Guard pursuit boat crew and the smugglers taken into custody. Since switching to the MH-68A, HITRON has interdicted an additional 22 go-fasts carrying more than $2 billion dollars in illegal drugs.

HITRON is based at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, Florida, and is the only unit of its kind in the United States military flying armed helicopters to fight the war on drugs. Now led by Captain Walter Reger, HITRON has grown to 70 personnel to meet the growing threat to our country. 
The war on drugs has become even more important since September 11, 2001, as the sale of illegal drugs has been shown to be major funding sources employed by many terrorist organizations. Therefore, stopping illegal drugs not only protects our country directly by preventing the drugs from making it to our streets, but also protects our country indirectly by removing a source of income from terrorists. HITRON has successfully stopped every go-fast boat they have engaged since employing armed helicopters.

Due to HITRON’s unique capabilities and training, the unit was tasked to develop Airborne Use of Force tactics to counter possible terrorist threats to the United States, another first for the Coast Guard. HITRON now stands poised to defend our shores and fulfill the Coast Guard’s motto of "Semper Paratus-Always Ready".

"The use of Coast Guard HITRON for armed patrols will increase the level of security in our ports, provide an additional layer of defense, ensure continued safe flow of commerce and deter possible acts of terrorism in our nation’s key ports", said Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. In addition to their counter drug deployments, HITRON aircrews now also deploy to cities around
the nation anytime additional security is needed, or the threat of terrorism increases.

To date, HITRON’s actions have stopped over 25 tons of pure, uncut cocaine, and over three tons of marijuana worth over $2 billion from reaching America’s neighborhoods. In doing so, HITRON has contributed greatly to the homeland security mission of the United States. HITRON will continue to be at the forefront of our nation’s fight against drugs and terrorism, and to provide protection of our great country’s shores.

Shrinking Bandwidths In Radio Communications
How To Select & Program Public Safety Transceivers

By Mark Colborn

In the event of a terrorist or WMD incident, the job of an aerial observer or tactical flight officer quickly becomes one of command and control. The ability to communicate with multiple agencies quickly and efficiently is paramount. Thus, police aircraft have to be equipped with enough radio gear to do the job.

The selection of radio equipment is unquestionably the most important consideration an agency can make when purchasing or upgrading an aircraft. This is especially true in today’s environment where surrounding agencies will be called upon to assist with a major incident. Once a unit has defined its communications needs and selects transceivers based on factors such as band coverage, ease of use or storage capacity, the task is then to ensure that the radios are programmed to cover every eventuality.


Thirty years ago, most public safety agencies were either on the Very High Frequency (VHF) FM low band, 30 to 50 MHz, or on the VHF FM high band, 138 to 174 MHz. The low band has the most range in mountainous terrain, but has been virtually abandoned. The VHF high band offered agencies nearly interference free and skip free communications over wide areas. Ultra High Frequency (UHF Hi) FM, 450-520 MHz conventional frequency systems, whose signals penetrate buildings well, are still being used in many large municipalities in the southwest including Dallas, Los Angeles and until just recently, Phoenix.

Conventional frequency systems utilize two frequencies per channel in either a duplex or half-duplex mode. Stated simply, a repeater is utilized to allow dispatchers and units to communicate over large distances. Each group of radio users has its own "channel," therefore, a large number of frequencies are required to handle all of the radio traffic in a large city.

In an effort to solve the problem of shrinking available bandwidth, the trend for large and medium sized agencies has been to move to an 800 MHz Trunked Radio System (TRS). Trunked systems, in theory, allow a large number of users to occupy a small number of frequencies, thus freeing up bandwidth. TRS radios offer many attractive features. Each radio has an assigned identification number that can be displayed on the dispatcher’s console. If an officer has a problem, he or she can push a designated "emergency" button alerting the dispatcher. Also, if a radio is lost or stolen, the system administrator can disable it.

There are basically three major corporations that offer TRS systems in the United States: Motorola, M/A-COM and E.F. Johnson. Each uses different protocols and are presently incompatible.

Multiple public safety frequency bands and different radio systems present special installation challenges for airborne law enforcement operators. Using Dallas, Texas as an example, the majority of the agencies that surround Dallas to the south and east are still using conventional VHF. The Dallas Police Department and Dallas Fire Rescue utilize two separate twelve-channel UHF conventional systems. Agencies that border Dallas to the north, the mid-cities and Fort Worth, have made the switch to various Motorola and MA/COM Trunked Radio Systems or 800MHz conventional channels. The DEA, State Department, Federal Protective Service and U.S. Postal Police, are all in the 406 to 412 MHz (UHF Lo) range. U.S. Customs, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals and FBI, all utilize radios that communicate in the 164 to 172 MHz range.

Some of these agencies digitize or encrypt their radio communications while others operate in the clear. Several federal prisons, a VA Hospital and a reserve military base in the DFW area utilize 400MHz Trunked Radio Systems. CareFlite, the local air ambulance company, recently switched to a wide area 900MHz TRS operated by TXU Energy for their communications needs.

It is clear from this example that the days of just plugging a few "frequencies" into a transceiver are a bygone era. Several transceivers may be required to meet the majority of your agency’s communications needs, because with all of the varied types of communications systems available, budget constraints and available panel space may leave gaps in your coverage.


Depending on the radio system an air unit uses, a radio technician from within the agency may be employed to handle all of the air unit’s programming needs. This is especially true if the agency has switched to digital protocols, either digital conventional channels like LAPD, or pure digital trunked systems like the State of Colorado, Michigan, and the City of Austin, Texas, to mention a few.

Using radio technicians can be costly because departments often bill other departments within the agency for the time invested. Another avenue available is to hire an outside company or the radio manufacturer to handle programming requirements. This is usually very expensive and if radio systems are upgraded or communications needs change, the costs to the unit escalate.

The third option is for air unit personnel to program their own transceivers with the assistance of a licensed radio technician. This may be the only option available since most in-house radio techs have no experience programming public safety band transceivers manufactured for aircraft.

The Dallas Police Department Helicopter Unit recently purchased four Motorola ASTRO Spectra 800MHz transceivers for each of its four helicopters. These radios were integrated into a Northern Airborne Technology (NAT) TH-450 control head. Even though the City of Dallas owns and operates an 800MHz analog TRS for various city services, the helicopter unit’s radio shop has virtually no experience with the ASTRO model, or the Windows based Customer Programming Software (CPS), that is used to program the radios directly.

Speaking from experience as a radio communications specialist for an air unit, I can report that you may end up teaching yourself how to use the software and receiving the blessing of the radio techs in your radio shop. Unquestionably, this is not an area in which to tread lightly! Older, DOS based programs, to include the Motorola Radio Service Software (RSS), can be a frustratingly hair pulling experience to learn. Luckily, the new Motorola CPS Windows based programming software is much easier to master, and it is slowly replacing the older RSS for many models.


With some software programs, computer-processing speed is a major factor to consider. Some older DOS based programs will not run effectively on Pentium, AMD, or other high-speed processor computers. The reason for this is simple; the newer computers try to send the information to the transceiver or control head quicker than the transceiver or programming software can handle the information.

Dallas PD is still using an ancient 286 Toshiba DOS based laptop to program its NAT TH-450 control heads. Older 286, 386 and 486 processor computers (especially laptops) are now being utilized as boat anchors or slowly decomposing in landfills all over our great nation! Some radio manufacturers are slower than others in releasing Windows based programs capable of programming older lines of transceivers or control heads. You may have to visit a museum, computer store about to go out-of-business, or a homeless person under a bridge to find a computer, or replacement computer, capable of handling your programming needs!


Motorola CPS software for the ASTRO, however, will run fine on any Pentium or AMD processor machine loaded with Windows 95 through XP. The problems start when reading or writing to the transceiver. The majority of new laptop computers loaded with XP do not have a serial port. A serial port, usually a 9 pin DB connector on the back or side of the computer, acts as a COMM port, and is required to hook up a device called a RIB or SmartRIB box between the transceiver and the computer. On newer machines without serial ports, a serial port emulator is required to make the system work effectively. The serial port emulator hooks into a USB port and emulates a COMM Port like on older computers. These devices are a $150 option.


Several manufacturers have responded to the multi-band requirements of airborne law enforcement by developing new models of transceivers that are easy to use, easy to program, and offer many advanced features.

Wulfsberg Electronics recently introduced the P-2000 model. The P-2000 is a 1022 preset channel digital tactical FM radio with a color LCD display, and the first panel-mounted, multi-band transceiver ever offered by the company. Although the P-2000 does not have the full-band capability of the RT-5000 (30 to 960MHz), it still covers three major public safety and marine bands.

Technisonic Industries Limited (distributed by Dallas Avionics, Inc.) recently introduced the TDFM 600 and 6000 series transceivers. The TDFM 600 can be configured to operate within two of four available band plans. The TDFM 6000 can be programmed to transmit in three bands. For 800MHz TRS operations, the transceivers support Motorola SmartNetII, SmartZone and P25 (9600 baud) 
ASTRO pure digital trunking protocols. Several encryption protocols are also available with these models. The Motorola CPS is utilized in the aforementioned transceivers to program 800MHz trunked systems.

Creating Airborne Liaisons
A "Foreign Exchange" Program for Officers

By Mickey Veich

The International Police Association is the world’s largest police organization designed as a police service fraternal organization without regard to rank, race, religion or political affiliation. The only requirements are that members must be active or retired officers with traditional powers of arrest, search and seizure.

There are over 300,000 members in 62 countries of the free world and the IPA motto is "Servo Per mikeco", which means service through friendship. The IPA exists to help out visiting officers wherever they find themselves on duty or on vacation around the world. In the United States, there are 60 chapters covering the entire 50 states.

In a concerted effort to promote stronger and more cooperative law enforcement, Mesa Police Department’s Aviation Unit in Arizona goes one step beyond with its accommodating liaison programs. You’ve all heard of a ride-along for visiting officers, but how about a fly-along?

Visiting officers get firsthand experience from seasoned pilots and well-informed tactical flight officers on exactly how and what makes Mesa’s aviation unit tick and how they do their jobs in the air. Many of the visiting officers work in venues that put four officers in a single car in response to a call, so an aircraft is an unusual enforcement luxury for most international visitors.

Mesa’s police department owns and operates two fixed wing aircraft; one Cessna 172 and a Piper Dakota. They also fly three MD500E helicopters and wish they had two more. The general policy for fly-along permission at Mesa PD requires personal approval from Chief Dennis L. Donna, who approves all requests and examines all credentials. Once approval is granted, the flight is then scheduled with the requesting IPA member, who will personally escort the visiting foreign officer to the hangar for a pre-flight briefing with the day’s pilot and scheduled tactical flight officer.

Swiss Officer Barbara Ruegsegger of the Zurich (Switzerland) City Police Department, recently came to Mesa for a police visit. She requested any local IPA assistance she could get in order to spend a few "typical" days in the life of an American police officer.

IPA Region 25’s 1st Vice President, Richard J. Ellis, arranged Ruegsegger’s original liaison request for a Mesa PD fly-along and traveled with her. As passengers for the day, they met with Aviation Commander Lt. Rob Johnson. After an enthusiastic and friendly welcoming greeting, he introduced Ruegsegger and Ellis to the flight crew for the day, Pilot David L. Heckel and TFO David Dolenar, both seasoned police officers. TFO Dolenar went over safety checklists and mandatory orders prior to boarding the MD500E, where they received additional instructions, orders and safety rules from Pilot Heckel.

"By offering visiting police officers an opportunity to fly-along with us, we develop a networking opportunity unparalleled," said Chief Pilot Officer Steve Raether. "As Mesa officers, we are constantly responsible for developing and maintaining liaison with counterpart officers and agencies from wherever they are found. We only want to be sure they are bona fide officers and not gatecrashers. Meeting and interfacing with foreign officers is a great opportunity to network and compare notes, as well."

According to pilot-in-training and current Tactical Flight Officer Charles Pradelt, "... additional information in the form of knowledge transfer occurs during every flight and subsequent debriefings with our international visitors. We really enjoy this exchange, which would not otherwise occur very frequently if it weren’t for the liaison program."

In addition to the goodwill generated during the flights, miscellaneous types of information through personal tactical experiences are also exchanged. The assigned officers are learning numerous technologies, too. Mesa officers constantly compare enforcement techniques, technical expertise and equipment use for possible department application.

Mesa Aviation Section welcomes its visitors and really goes out of its way to assist and promote cooperation. Assigned to the Patrol Resources Division, Mesa’s Aviation Section can be found alongside the Field Training Unit, SWAT, Selective Enforcement and Traffic Sections.