EAGLE 1 and EAGLE 2 are MD-500E, single engine, gas turbine powered helicopters. Both helicopters are owned and operated by the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department and are staffed by sworn Deputy Sheriff’s. The Air Support Unit was created in October of 1996. The unit is located at the Fresno-Yosemite Airport. The McDonnell Douglas 500E helicopter was selected as our preferred aircraft and two helicopters were purchased from MD Helicopters in Mesa, AZ to start the program. The flight crews began patrol operations on March 7, 1997.
The McDonnell Douglas 500E helicopter has a turbine engine that has a maximum speed of 175 mph with a maximum ceiling of 16,000 feet. The helicopter is fueled by aviation Jet-A and carries 63 U.S. gallons, which allow it to fly for approximately 1hr 45min. The helicopter has four seats and carries a pilot and a flight officer. Both of the MD500E helicopters are equipped with Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) system, color video camera and 50 million-candle power "Nightsun" search light. The helicopters are equipped with the Aero-Computers mapping system.
The imager is a FLIR 8000. The Thermal Imager carried on EAGLE 1 is one of the most advanced thermal imagers on the market available to Law Enforcement. The Imager is often said to be able to “see heat.” This is true to a point but is not accurate. All objects with a temperature above Absolute Zero (approximately –459.7 degrees F) give off infrared radiation, which in turn produces infrared light. The human eye cannot see infra-red light. The higher the temperature, the more infrared radiation given off by that object. The thermal camera is designed with about 36,000 sensors housed in the lens of the imager that can sense infrared radiation. The imager cannot see through walls or glass, but if an object, such as a person is leaning against the interior wall of a building for a length of time, the heat may soak through to the exterior, showing a warm spot against the wall. The imager is not affected by smoke or clouds. The imager is not affected by light, and cannot see light. Only the heat put off by the bulb. The FLIR us unaffected by day or night operations. Housed inside the Thermal Camera is also a color video recorder, which can record in either thermal mode or color video.
EAGLE 3 is the departments fixed wing surveillance airplane. The airplane is a 2002 Cessna Turbo 206 Stationair. The airplane is equipped with patrol radios, digital video recorder and a Gyrocam high altitude camera system that is capable of observing and video recording activity from as high as 11,000 ft. It can stay airborne for up to 3 ½ hours. The airplane is also used for SAR missions as a communications relay platform or for a search platform in the event that the helicopters may not be able to respond do to weather in the valley. The airplane is fully instrument capable and is equipped with a in flight navigation and auto-pilot systems that allow the airplane to fly in zero visibility.
Both the Pilot and TFO are trained to fly with NVG’s. Fresno County Sheriff and Kern County Sheriff are the only Law Enforcement agency in Central California who uses Night Vision Goggles. We use the ANVIS-9 Generation 3. The NVG’s are designed to enhance the surrounding ambient light several thousand times and then create a picture. The NVG’s are operated by a battery pack worn on the back of the helmet. NVG’s allow the crew to operate in darkness with greater safety, and also allows us to fly into the mountains at night if necessary with far less risk. Because of this equipment, EAGLE 1 is the only law enforcement helicopter in the Central Valley that flies into the mountains at night. EAGLE 1 has successfully completed several rescues of lost hikers in what would appear to the naked eye as total darkness by using NVG’s.
EAGLE 1 uses a rescue technique known as long line rescue. The technique, simplified, is to attach as 75 ft rope to the external belly cargo hook and the TFO to the other end. The pilot can then fly the TFO to the victim. The TFO then secures the victim either with a harness or in a stokes litter and then the victim and Flight Officer are then flown to an area where further medical care can be provided if necessary.
Another rescue method is a type of long line rescue using a “Cinch Collar”. This is used to rescue victims trapped in a river or lake primarily. The TFO, standing on the skid of the hovering helicopter, lowers a type of life preserver to the victim, and the victim is the lifted out of the water and taken to shore.
If necessary, the TFO can also stand on the skid, as the helicopter is hovered directly above the surface. The Flight Officer can then grab the victim and help them either onto the skid or, if necessary, into the helicopter. The crew of EAGLE 1 routinely trains on, and employs all of these rescue techniques.
EAGLE 1 does not provide medical transport except in cases of extreme emergency and when no other option for medical care is available. In that case, the patient would be transported to the nearest medical care.
Pilots: The unit is staffed with four pilots. Three helicopter pilots and one fixed wing pilot. The pilot is the final authority in all matters related to flight and flight safety. All of the pilots are Commercial rated. Pilots are sworn Deputies and are selected from the current staff of TFO’s.
Tactical Flight Officers: The Tactical Flight Officer is responsible for all matters related to the law enforcement mission. The Flight Officer is responsible for the operation law enforcement radios the spotlight and thermal camera. In rescue situations, the TFO will be the one physically performing the rescue whether it is exiting the helicopter on foot, riding on the skid, or from the line hooked to the helicopter. The TFO will also be the one to exit the helicopter in the event EAGLE 1 lands for law enforcement activity. The TFO’s and pilots also carry their AR-15 rifles and are trained to employ Airborne Use of Force Tactics from the air. All Flight crews are sworn Deputies Sheriff’s.
Whenever possible, notify EAGLE 1 whenever there is a possibility they may be needed. Attempt pick-ups, search warrants, etc. Because of the large size of the county, our ETA could be 30 + minutes. Even if you don’t need the helicopter directly overhead, giving the crew a heads up will allow us to at least be in the area should the need arise.
A leg bail is probably one of the more common events where EAGLE 1 can be used. In this case, how long ago was the person seen, where was he/she last seen and direction of travel. physical description is also extremely important. At night, when trying to signal EAGLE 1 as to your location, if tactically feasible, shinning your flashlight directly at the helicopter in rapid flashes will help us locate you. It can be helpful doing this when you are the person talking to the Flight Officer. This way, when you are giving directions, etc. the Flight Officer can better visualize your directions. With the new LED flashlights, be aware that some frequencies of LED bulbs cannot be seen by NVG’s.
During a vehicle pursuit, EAGLE calls the pursuit once they advise the primary pursuing unit “EAGLE 1 has the pursuit.” In some cases, if a pursuit is in a dense residential area, and the pursuit continually changes directions and streets, it may be necessary for ground units to call out small side streets, while EAGLE 1 maintains over-watch for major streets, intersections, traffic, and pedestrians.
When describing a residence, colors, types and colors of vehicle, number of houses from a corner, and what side of the street the house is located on. In many cases, EAGLE 1 may arrive prior to ground units, and if possible, this information can obtained from the caller.
EAGLE 1 patrols Fresno County, supporting any law Enforcement agency in the county that makes a request through the Watch Commander. EAGLE 1 is also available to agencies outside Fresno County on a case by case basis and is evaluated by the ASU chain of command and the Watch Commander. When requesting EAGLE 1, if at all possible given the circumstances, giving the crew prior notice, such as on a search warrant, attempt pick up, etc. will allow us to be on scene or in the area when you need us. The map below gives a breakdown of response time with each ring representing approximately 5 minutes of flight time without factoring in weather considerations.