The Huntington Beach Police Department Air Support Unit provides support to ground-based units engaged in all facets of law enforcement while, serving the citizens of Huntington Beach. This support includes, but is not limited to Patrol and Traffic Operations, Surveillance, Marine Safety and Fire protection operations, Aerial Photography, Search and Rescue, and Training. Additionally, the Air Support Unit may provide air support to other law enforcement agencies within the scope of mutual aid during life-threatening and emergency situations. We have recently purchased three MD 530F helicopters, which will operate out of our facility. It is owned and operated solely by the city of Huntington Beach expressly for police and fire operations. The Air Support Unit currently provides support under contract for the City of Newport Beach, the City of Costa Mesa, and the City of Irvine.
The Huntington Beach Police Air Support Unit was formed in 1968. We were the first city in Orange County and the fifth in the entire nation to utilize helicopters in support of public safety. The Hangar Facility, currently in use by the Air Support Unit, was opened in 1986. It was named the Bob Morrison Heliport in honor of the founder and original unit commander, Lt. Bob Morrison.
The Air Support Unit is organized in the Police Department under the Special Operations Division. It is commanded by the Traffic/Air Support lieutenant and supervised by one Air Support sergeant. We currently have 6 pilots who work varying shifts to provide air support 7-days a week and 2 full-time mechanics that provide ongoing maintenance on our helicopters.
The primary goal of the Huntington Beach Police Department Air Support Unit is to provide a level of service that contributes to the overall success of the mission at hand. We understand safety is critical to the successful outcome of any mission, so we strive to operate in as safe a manner as possible in all areas of our aviation operations.
The greatest benefit of helicopter patrol is the quick response time to emergencies. Our helicopter is capable of speeds up to 150 mph, which puts us first on the scene of a crime or emergency about 97% of the time. Once the helicopter has arrived at the scene, suspects usually cease their activity because of their immediate desire to hide or escape. However, there is no escape from the Huntington Beach helicopter.
The highly trained observers may be able to spot illegal activity from up to a mile away by utilizing state-of-the-art camera systems and specialized equipment. The ability to scan large areas increases the chances of halting crime and of apprehending suspects.
All of the pilots and observers are sworn police officers before their assignment to the Air Support Unit. They have excellent knowledge of the geographical layout of the city and are aware of high-crime areas. While on patrol they are on the constant lookout for criminal activity including traffic violations and drunk drivers.
Our helicopters are equipped with "state of the art" communication equipment. We are able to talk to any police, fire, or public safety agency with our radios, increasing our effectiveness.
The helicopters we operate are equipped with "Night Sun" spotlights that produce 40 million candle power. The lights can illuminate large, football field size areas or may be focused to concentrate on an area a few feet in diameter.
We also utilize High Definition camera system capable of seeing during the day or night including infrared images allowing us to see in the dark. The camera allows us to zoom in on targets from miles away. This equipment detects heat and gives the observer an image on a monitor that lets him see in total darkness. The images are remarkably clear. It can even show where a car was parked moments before, even though the car has left.
The HD Camera is a great assistance in searching for criminal activity but it is also used to locate injured people on the beach or in the water during the day or night. We have used it to locate boats in distress and even to detect fuel spills in the ocean.
With this technology, we can scan school yards, check business rooftops, spot suspicious vehicles in neighborhoods, and pick out suspects hiding just about anywhere. One example was the apprehension of a suspect who had been hiding under a trash can. His body heat warmed the trash container and he was picked out from all the yards being searched, even though he was not visible to the officers conducting the search.
With the helicopter's special equipment and experienced flight crews, the air unit can search an area for suspects in minutes. The same area without air assistance might take ground officers hours to fully search. The helicopter also responds to calls such as traffic jams, speeding cars, suspicious persons or vehicles, and other minor incidents. If the problem is gone, ground units can be canceled to handle other, more important calls that may be waiting.
The helicopter responds to all major incidents. Whether a vehicle pursuit, a robbery in progress, a major traffic collision, a structure fire, or a boat in distress, the aircrew's job is to assist ground personnel and watch out for everyone's safety.
With the unique ability to see all sides of a situation at once, the helicopter can report to ground units any dangers that may await them around a corner.
The helicopter crews can direct the appropriate response to citizens or other officers who need help. They can set up containment perimeters, do aerial surveillance for fires, assist in criminal or narcotics investigations, and respond to water rescues.
The pilots who fly our helicopter train constantly to be as proficient and safe as possible. Pilots train with SWAT, Firefighters, and Marine Safety personnel to be prepared for any emergency. By FAA regulation, pilots receive intense examinations and flight reviews to check their proficiency. Each pilot is a licensed Commercial Pilot and an experienced police officer.
Our aircraft patrols during daylight hours at or above 700 feet. During night patrol we increase our altitude to 800 feet or more. This gives us the best visibility while reducing noise. We may fly lower if an emergency situation requires and have even landed to assist citizens or officers on the ground.
In 1984 we began using the MD 500E model helicopter for patrol, it was equipped with the "Quiet Knight" package, a four-bladed tail rotor (tail rotors make the majority of the helicopter noise). In 1992 we put our first MD 520 NOTAR (No-tail rotor) helicopter and became an all MD 520 fleet in 2002 with the addition of our third NOTAR helicopter. In 2023, we have moved back to the 4-tail rotor system helicopter, with the MD 530 F. This move is going to create significant savings in operational and repair costs for the Air Support unit, while still lessening the noise of the traditional helicopter.
City of Huntington Beach
2000 Main Street
Huntington Beach, CA
Request non-emergency police service:
Fax: (714) 536-5605
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