HISTORY OF THE PSP AVIATION
The Pennsylvania State Police Aviation Division was established by the approval of an
Executive Board Resolution dated October 15. 1968.
Air Patrol Operations were initiated on March 24, 1969 with two (2) Bell Model 47G-4A
helicopters at the then Harrisburg-York Airport (Capital City Airport). The Division's initial
personnel complement consisted of six (6) pilots and four (4) mechanic/observers.
On April 10, 1969, a second Aviation Patrol Unit was established when one of the two existing
helicopters was moved to the Washington County Airport. Accompanied by two pilots and two
In June of 1970, the division's complement was increased to eighteen (18) members, and two (2)
new patrol units were established at Hazleton and Franklin. Additionally, the Department
received its first two-(2) turbo-jet powered helicopters, Bell Model 206A. Jet Rangers
By June of 1972, the Department's fleet had grown to six (6) helicopters at six (6) patrol
unit locations, with the establishment of the Montoursville Unit in 1971 and the Reading Unit
in 1972. Additionally, the Aviation Headquarters consisted of the Division Director, the
Patrol Section Commander, the standardization pilot and a civilian clerk-stenographer. An
Aviation Maintenance Section had been established at Olmsted Airport (now Harrisburg
International Airport) with two (2) of the original mechanic/observers now being full time
mechanics. With four pilots assigned to each patrol unit, the Division's total personnel
complement now stood at thirty (30).
On January 4. 1974, the Federal Aviation Administration issued F.A.A. Repair Station
Certificate Number 110-5 to the Divisions Maintenance Section. Under that Certificate, the
Maintenance Section was then authorized to perform major repairs. Overhaul, alteration, and
periodic inspections, in addition to the previously accomplished routine maintenance. This was
a major milestone in the development of the Aviation Division
On January 17, 1974 the Aviation Division Experienced its first fatal accident when Tpr. Ross
E. Snowdon was killed while on a surveillance mission in Berks County.
On October 1, 1974, the Department's helicopter fleet became all Jet Turbine powered, with the
replacement for the aircraft lost in the Reading accident being a new Jet Ranger.
In April 1978, the helicopter fleet was enlarged to eight (8) total aircraft through the
acquisition of two (2) Pennsylvania Army National Guard UH-1B (Huey) helicopters. These
aircraft. Supplied through the Federal Military Surplus Property System, were intended for
utilization during natural disasters, rescues, civil disorders, and emergency medical
evacuation/transportation. Due to budgetary constraints, higher than anticipated operating
costs, and unavailability of repair parts, these aircraft were traded for a new Jet Ranger
III. Model 206B-3. This aircraft proved very successful as a maintenance and training spare.
On April 12, 1989. the Department experienced its second fatal accident with the deaths of
Cpl. Paul Almer and Tpr. Wayne D. Bilheimer, when their helicopter struck an unmarked
transmission line while searching the Susquehanna River for a reported suicide victim.
In August 1989, the Aviation Division took delivery of a fourth (4th) Cessna 182 Skylane. A
Twin Engine Airplane used for drug surveillance and criminal investigation work, was purchased
through PCCD funding in the fall of 1991.
On July 13. 1992 the Aviation Division was moved from the Bureau of Patrol. The Aviation
Section is currently assigned to the Division of Aviation and Special Services in the Bureau
of Emergency and Special Operations.
On July 8, 1999 The Pennsylvania State Police purchased a Bell/Textron Model 407 Helicopter.
The Model 407 is based at State Police Aviation Patrol Unit I, Reading Municipal Airport. The
cost was $1.8 million and was purchased through H.A.S. Corp., Mount Pleasant, Westmoreland
County. The State Police traded-in a 25-year-old helicopter and received $160,000, 65 percent
of the original purchase price. The Model 407 Will is the fastest, largest, and most powerful
helicopter in the State Police fleet
IMPLEMENTATION OF AERIAL SPEED
In 1978 the Bureau of Patrol in an effort to increase our enforcement efforts of the 55 mph
National Maximum Speed Limit (NMSL) began planning for an aerial enforcement program. After
much research and planning, the Bureau of Patrol formulated plans for an aerial speed
enforcement program which was to be known as Operation SPARE (State Police Aerial
Reconnaissance and Enforcement).
On October 20, 1978, Operation SPARE was initiated in nine (9) south central counties,
consisting of Adams, Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York.
After a six month trial period, the success of the program dictated expansion to include the
In early 1979, Operation SPARE was expanded to include the northwestern, southeastern and
central counties of the state. By August 1980, all six of our Bell Jet Ranger Helicopters were
involved. On October 10, 1980, a Cessna 182, Fixed Wing Aircraft was purchased by the
Department, and it became operational in operation SPARE on October 20, 1980. In 1981
Operation SPARE was expanded to include all counties in the state.
|In 1982. two additional Cessna 182 Fixed Wing Aircraft
were purchased by the Department. and they became operational in Operation SPARE in May 1982. Since
its inception, SPARE has proven to be our most consistent and effective method of speed enforcement.
Traffic citations are issued at the average rate of one for every six (6) minutes of operation.
| VARIOUS WORK ASSIGNMENTS
Over the years the actions of the Section and its members have been exemplary. Whether a natural
disaster (the blizzards and floods of 1996), man-made disasters (TMI and Ashland oil spill), civil
or labor unrest, prison riots (Pittsburgh, Graterford, Camp Hill) or community service events,
(Camp Cadet and Grade School visits with Safety Education Officers), the Aviation Section has
always provided a positive impact in service to the citizens of the Commonwealth in the highest
tradition of the Pennsylvania State Police.
EFFECTIVE USE OF THE STATE POLICE AIRCRAFT
|The Pennsylvania State Police operates seven Bell Jet Ranger
helicopters from strategically-placed locations throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Each
helicopter can carry up to four passengers depending on circumstances, has the capacity for a
medical evacuation configuration for two litter patients and is capable of mounting a 30 million
candlepower search light for night operations. There are also five "High Wing" airplanes
stationed at three locations across the state. And in 2003 two Agusta A117 "Koala"
helicopters, with re-configurable interiors, were purchased. The reconfigurable interior allows
for the use of stretchers, cargo handling, or extra passengers.
The helicopters are available 24 hours a day. Limiting factors are manpower and machinery
availability and weather. Each Aviation Patrol Unit has a minimum of three pilots for scheduling.
This makes it possible to have the helicopters available from sunrise to sunset. For incidents
which occur outside this time frame, pilots may be called in. Nighttime operations require a more
critical evaluation of weather than daytime operations. With the search light mounted, the
helicopter can effectively illuminate an area the size of a city block. This can be of great value
for nighttime search operations. Some of the units also have thermal imaging equipment to enhance
search capabilities. At times when the weather may look questionable, the pilot in command
of the aircraft will be the ultimate authority regarding whether or not the aircraft will be put
into service. In any event, it does not hurt to request the services of the helicopter. That is
what they are there for and, if at all possible, the services will be provided.
||The helicopter has proven itself many times in the area of search
and rescue. In the event someone becomes disoriented or is injured in any way, a helicopter can be
used to locate and/or assist the subject. During a search, the helicopter can be used as an aerial
observation vehicle and will be able to search large areas in a much shorter time than ground
personnel. During a rescue operation the helicopter may be used to provide transportation into or
out of an area inaccessible by any other means.
The Bell Jet Ranger has a med-evac configuration which allows for the emergency evacuation of up
to two litter patients. It is important that emergency personnel at the scene of a medical
emergency realize the evacuation of patients by a State Police helicopter is essentially that
-evacuation from the scene to a more suitable area for treatment. Medical assistance to the
patient will most likely be limited to that available at the scene prior to arrival of the
Airborne thermal imaging systems. commonly referred to as Forward Looking InfraRed (FLIR). have
been installed on helicopters assigned to the Aviation Patrol Units at Reading, Harrisburg,.
Latrobe, and Franklin in order to ensure that this resource is available in the eastern, central,
and western portions of the Commonwealth.
All objects emit various levels of infrared energy. The hotter an object, the more infrared energy
is emitted. Airborne thermal imaging systems function by detecting infrared energy and depicting
the thermal image on the system's video monitor; temperature differences of less than one degree
centigrade can be detected and displayed.
Thermal detection devices are passive, non intrusive instruments which are sensitive only to
surface radiant temperatures, not to light. They do not emit "beams" or
"rays": they cannot see into or through structures or other solid objects. They should
not be confused with night vision equipment which captures low levels of light and amplifies it to
more detectable levels. Since thermal detection devices depend on radiant heat instead of light,
they are functional regardless of light conditions: however, they are more effective at night
since the radiant heat of a detected object is not affected by the heat of the sun.
Surveillance of vehicles, people and other heat emitting sources can be enhanced through use of an
airborne thermal imaging system. The ability to locate fleeing criminals and escapees, as well as
lost children. hikers and hunters is improved. Hot spots at fire scenes can be identified even
through smoke. The system can be advantageous in identifying indoor cannabis cultivation
operations. Because of latent engine heat, it can also identify stationary vehicles which are
running or have been operated recently. Some of the applications in which the thermal imaging
capability can be applied in law enforcement are:
A. Drug Interdiction
C. Criminal Apprehension
D. Search and Rescue
E. Fire Fighting
During the summer of 1983, the Aviation Division became the Department's lead group in a
cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. This
agreement, ongoing today has provided training and operational funding for the domestic Marijuana
Identification and Eradication Program. This program has proved to be highly successful.
This successful program was developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Drug Law Enforcement
(BDLE). Most commonly, a member of the BDLE schedules a date with our unit and they check on
locations where intelligence indicates that fields are located. In addition, Pilots and observers
are trained to spot cultivated marijuana plots from the air while on routine patrol. Early in the
program systematic grid searches were conducted of areas just to determine if marijuana was being
grown. This did not turn out to be a productive use of resources. We now only conduct searches
when we have information indicating that plants are somewhere in the area. Global Positioning
Systems are utilized to accurately locate plots so that ground troops can return on foot at a
later date to monitor or eradicate the crop.