Everyone kept saying “Foxtrot, this and foxtrot that” and until this class I had no idea what that meant. I knew foxtrot was the word for the letter F in cool people lingo, and I know how to foxtrot…but apparently Foxtrot is also the cool lingo for flight. Way cooler than just calling it the Aviation Unit.
I like to think I’m part of the initiated now that I got to sit in the driver’s side of the police helicopter, which is on the right, by the way. This was another one of those nights that the adults turned into kids again, as they learned about one of the neater, lesser known units of the police department.
The BPD’s Aviation Unit is run out of Martin State Airport, which is only about 5 minutes from the Inner Harbor, flying at about 146 miles per hour. The unit consists of 4 Airbus H120 helicopters at a total cost of $4.7 million. There are two helicopters in the air at all times, one on stand-by, and one receiving extended maintenance. Each helicopter is serviced every 100 hours, with extended maintenance every 500. They can stay up for about two to 3.5 hours at a time. Because the helicopters are European, the pilot’s side is actually on the right side, so when searching, they will orbit to the left where the Tactical Flight Officer (TFO) can look out.
Foxtrot’s helicopters are the 2nd quietest on the civilian market and are equipped with GPS, lo-jack, a PA system, a recording camera, and a large search light with the power of 30 million candles (!), and heat sensors. With the naked eye, TFOs can see 500 feet above the ground. In good weather, their visibility can reach about 3 miles (with lights). In bad weather, the crew will decide whether or not to fly. Though they are not certified to fly in instrument-only conditions, they will often fly in rain, snow, and thunderstorms, but not in icy conditions.
Foxtrot Officer Training
The BPD employs a crew of three pilots and two TFOs. The department hires pilots and trains them to be police officers. They need 1400 hours of flight time, 700 hours of turbine time (a specific type of flight time), and 80 hours of training with an instructor pilot. The pilot in command receives another 800 hours. Once a year, they are trained in touchdown on auto-rotation (basically flying without engine power, if I understand correctly. You can find an explanation here). The TFO first needs a minimum of five years experience on patrol so they know the city and can help ground units.