Orange County Sheriff's Office Aviation Section
It is 11 pm on a Friday night in downtown Orlando, Florida. The bright lights of the theme parks are visible as a faint glow on the horizon. Cruising high above the city is a lone Bell 407 helicopter, the word “Sheriff” faintly visible on the side of the helicopter. A call booms through the radio “request immediate air assistance”. Within minutes, the helicopter sweeps in overhead, providing vital support to the law enforcement ground units. The suspect is apprehended!
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit is a highly-specialized Operations unit within the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. They provide aerial support for incidents such as vehicle surveillance, foot pursuits, searches for both criminal suspects, and missing, lost and/or endangered individuals.
The Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit was formed in the mid 1950’s, initially with a pair of fixed winged aircraft. In the 1970’s a number of Bell OH-58’s were acquired from the US Army through a military surplus program at a cost of $500 each. Following a modernisation program, it was decided to replace the ageing OH-58s with a more modern fleet of Bell 407s. The unit currently has three Bell 407 helicopters and a Bell 206L4 helicopter in its fleet.
The Bell 407
The Bell 407 helicopter started life as a development of the existing Bell 206L LongRanger, with the prototype first taking to the skies on 29th June 1995. Following a successful development program, the first production Bell 407 flew on 10th November 1995 and there have been over 1,400 of these helicopters built to date.
While operating with the Sheriff Office, the Bell 407 typically flies with a crew of 2, a pilot (who sits in the right seat) and a Tactical Flight Officer (who sits in the left seat). The Tactical Flight Officer handles the majority of the police work, operating the radios, camera and searchlight, therefore leaving the pilot free to concentrate on the safe flying of the aircraft. All of the pilots in the unit are qualified Commercial Pilots and several of the pilots are Certified Flight Instructors as well. Additionally, all of the Tactical Flight Officers are trained to fly the helicopter in an emergency situation.
The Aviation Section’s number one crime fighting tool is the Wescam MX-10 camera located under the aircraft’s nose. This camera pod provides the Tactical Flight Officer with the ability to track objects on the ground using either its standard colour camera as well as the built in Thermal Imaging camera. A well trained Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) can find suspects that are hiding in thick brush, up in trees, in garbage cans, and even in the water. The MX-10 camera has a fully active, 4-axis stabilization system to provide super stable video and is controlled using a hand controller in the cockpit. The Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit also has the ability to downlink the video from the camera directly to the deputies on the ground, allowing them to see what the helicopter sees.
Underneath the helicopter towards the rear is the TrakkaBeam A800 Searchlight. This high-intensity searchlight allows the aircraft to light up a ground area either to assist deputies on the ground or alert the public to any dangerous situation that may be occurring. It can illuminate an area of 250ft in diameter from an altitude of 3000 feet and can rotate a full 360 degrees. It is controlled by either the TFO or the pilot using a controller in the cockpit.
Also located in the back of the aircraft are an extensive emergency First Aid kit and Water Rescue kit (very useful in a state with 30,000 lakes!)
Located on the rear of the hanger are four Tyler Special Operations Platform (TSOP) Benches. These benches can be fitted onto the skids of the helicopter for the rapid transport, insertion and extraction of S.W.A.T members, as well as K-9 and other personnel. Installation of these benches is very quick and simple (takes less than 5 minutes) and requires no special modification to the aircraft.
Aviation in Action would like to extend our sincere thanks to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit for their excellent hospitality during our visit and we hope to be able to work with them again in the future.