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The Pennsylvania State Police Centennial Event DVD Collection
A set of (3) DVDs of the Centennial event available highlighting the weekend of activities and the Pennsylvania State Police Anniversary's gala event.
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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 mechanic/observers.

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


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 entire state.

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.
Photograph of Fixed Wing

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.


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. 
Photograph of Aviaion Pilots working On Helicopter

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 helicopter.


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
     B. Surveillance
     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.

The helicopter can be used as a photographic platform for accident scenes, crime scenes, or scenes of "unusual incidents." "Unusual incidents" refer locations of upcoming arrests. Photographs of these areas can provide arresting officers with information necessary for the safe apprehension of the suspect.

The helicopter can be operated in a hover at various altitudes. Flight in this manner allows the photographer to use a film with a slower ASA. The use of the slower film can lead to clearer photos for courtroom presentation, and photographs of accident or crime scenes are useful in the prosecution of accused criminals.

Photograph of Helicopter Cockpit





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