The Aviation Unit provides 24-hour helicopter support to patrol officers to
improve the safety of our citizens. During a vehicle pursuit, patrol officers
can back off while the eye in the sky covertly follows the suspect - directing
the patrol officers from a safe distance. The suspect slows down and officers
move in for the arrest. Air Service also conducts surveillance for tracking down
suspects during foot pursuits as well as aerial surveillance for large scale
events such as Gasparilla. There are 16 personnel assigned to the Aviation Unit
- one Sergeant, six pilots, six tactical flight officers, two aircraft mechanics
and one materials coordinator. The pilots have commercial licenses and are sworn
law enforcement officers. Each year, the unit's pilots fly about 2,500 hours and
respond to nearly 4,000 calls for service. All of the unit's maintenance is done
in house, with two full-time mechanics.
Bell 407 & OH-6
The Unit currently operates two Bell 407 helicopters and one Bell 206 L4.
Bell 407 is a single-engine
helicopter that seats seven people, including the pilot. It has a flight
time capability of 3.5 hours.
The Bell 407 is widely used throughout the country as one of the leading
helicopters for law enforcement. It has superior performances with the
best speed, payload and range available in its class. It has superior
power to weight ratio. It has exceptional passenger comfort with the
smoothest ride in its class.
The unit also operates one military surplus
OH-6 helicopter. This
Vietnam era helicopter was received by the department in 1994, and is an
economic value to the citizens of Tampa. They are normally operated with just a
pilot and an observer and can stay on patrol for approximately two hours.
GyrocamTampa Police helicopters are equipped with a Lockheed Martin Gyro
camera system. This tool is for critical for law enforcement operations.
The camera has a 40 power zoom lens, which provides bright color video
to officers in the helicopters during the day. But, even in the darkness
of the night, criminals can't escape. After dark, the camera technology
uses an infrared lens. Infrared picks up the differences in heat. For
instance, a living being has a much higher temperature than a plant,
making it easy for the flight observer to spot the criminal hiding in
the bushes. All of the video can be down linked to a mobile command post
or Tampa Police Headquarters. This is useful for real time information,
especially during large scale events such as Super Bowl XLIII.
All pilots and flight observers are trained and certified in the use
of night vision goggles. Pilots use this tool in close proximities
during the night for emergency landings to avoid hitting light poles and
power lines. This helps in the safety of the pilot and community.
The Aviation Unit utilizes 4th Generation Technology. All Night
Vision Devices (NVD) consist of several main parts: an objective lens,
an eyepiece, a power supply and an image intensifier tube (Photocathode
Tube). Night vision devices gather existing ambient light (starlight,
moonlight or infra-red light) through the front lens. This light, which
is made up of photons goes into a photocathode tube that changes the
photons to electrons.
Each police helicopter is equipped with a state of the art aerial
photo aid for disaster missions called Avalex. This is a GPS based
map system allows the flight crew to enter an address, intersection or
any named location and provide directions to that point. This
technology was purchased through a federal grant from the Urban
Area Security Initiative for use during a natural disaster or terrorist
attack. Locations can be quickly marked and saved to highlight a
piece of evidence or a targeted search area. The map system is
updated annually to accurately reflect new roads and other construction.
It also provides longitude/latitude data which provides information to
marine units on the exact location of a boat in distress or hazard to
The helicopters also have water rescue and firefighting capabilities.
Pilots have a technique for scooping up water to fight fires or
decontaminate hazardous materials spills. The Bambi Bucket suspends
below the helicopter and it scoops up to 100 gallons of water quickly
from ponds, streams, lakes and the bay. The flight crew can get to
places firefighters can't.
The helicopters can also be an aerial platform for the
SWAT or Dive team. Officers hook a bench on the side of the aircraft and
it allows divers or TRT members to jump from the helicopter.