The Assistant Chief of Police in 1969 was W. F. Dyson, who aided the Department in purchasing its first helicopter. This helicopter was leased, and Chief Frank Dyson, quoted in The Dallas Morning News - Nov. 25, 1969, said that using the helicopter in police work was one of the more recent innovative approaches to law enforcement in modern times. He was to be proven correct many times in future years. The helicopter began to serve the City of Dallas by helping the ground units capture burglars, auto thieves, bank robbers, rapists, and killers. These helicopters and their pilots proved themselves many times over by aiding the fire department in multi-alarm fire calls, finding missing persons, and assisting the flow of traffic.
By 1970, Dallas had purchased two new Hughes 300 model helicopters, especially designed for police work with flood lights, sirens, ground speakers, police radios, and FAA aircraft radios. These ships had top speeds of 90 miles per hour. They cost slightly more than $79,000 each and were housed at Red Bird Airport (where the current helicopters now operate). Already the police helicopters had many success stories. One sad report on a missing child ended in tragedy, even though the brave efforts of Pilot Don Norman and his police observer, Terry Creighton, gave their best efforts. The ground units could not locate the child, so the helicopter was called. Shortly, they spotted the child floating face down in a neighbor's pool. They landed their craft and pulled the youngster out. Resuscitation was administered and the child was rushed to a local hospital. Even though he did not survive, the value of air support was evident to all. Today, it is policy for the helicopter to respond to a missing child call, especially if the child is under ten years of age.
Six new helicopters were planned for the Dallas Police Helicopter Unit by 1971, thanks to government grants. By now the helicopters had proven themselves to the citizens of Dallas. The patrol officers already knew they needed the helicopters to help fight crime. It was never so clear as the evening Sgt. C. W. Standridge confronted a hit and run suspect. Little did the Sgt. and his partner know they had stopped an armed federal prison escapee in a stolen vehicle. Three blasts from the .38 revolver carried by this escaped bank robber ripped into the sergeant's middle, arm and neck. He was rushed to Parkland Hospital, and the chase was on to apprehend the suspect. Having led the police all the way up to a wooded area in Oklahoma, the suspect, hiding in thick trees didn't know the Dallas helicopter circling overhead couldn't see him. He fired three shots trying to bring the police helicopter down, but all he succeeded in doing was to let the ground elements discover his hiding spot. The fugitive was shot seven times. Sgt. Standridge, a 17 year police veteran, recovered after a long stay in intensive care, and returned to light duty.
As the years moved along, the Dallas Police Helicopter Unit received better equipment, updated radios, new night suns, their share of LEAA grant money, and best all - a new hanger built just for the unit at Red Bird Airport in southwest Dallas. The Department ended up with three new Bell Helicopters and doubled their manpower. By 1974 the Unit had eight Bell 47 helicopters and had acquired a 1951 Beaver from the military excess. For a picture, click here. Crime, a never-ending problem, persisted. The helicopter unit did their share to apprehend "the bad guys". In 1973, one four legged "bad guy" got caught by the helicopter too. Animal control officers were trying to capture a coyote in far southwest Dallas one afternoon. The helicopter spotted the animal and dived down close, scaring the animal out into the open thus enabling the animal control to capture the creature.
Two new Bell Jet-Ranger III helicopters were purchased by the City of Dallas in 1978. These turbine powered aircraft cruised at 140 miles per hour, with 420 shaft horsepower. This allowed the Helicopter Unit to "catch-up" to high speed chases, almost always assuring the apprehension of suspects who would flee from the ground units. Having ships that would now carry five people was of great benefit to the unit. Now they could pick up a fire captain who could direct his men from the advantage of height at a fire scene. Crime scene analysts could now take overhead pictures from the helicopter. When the Department assisted other police agencies, a police officer from that agency could be a passenger in the helicopter, directing his partners from the air in search of felons using his own hand-held radio. As the decade was drawing to a close, so began my "new" assignment as a member of this Helicopter Unit in September of 1979.
The next two decades brought about many new changes. The Bell 47s were sold. Our Unit received instrument flight technique training insuring that all the pilots could safely fly in marginal weather and use new navigational equipment. 1984 and 1985 were tragic years for the Unit. Please visit our webpage with a memorial section dedicated to three of our Helicopter Unit pilots who were killed in those years. The 16th ALEA Conference convention was held in Arlington in 1986 and many of our Unit members assisted with the success of this event. Again in 1989, the Dallas Police Department hosted the ALEA convention in Arlington, TX. Closing out 1989, our helicopter (see photo) made the front cover of Air Beat, Journal of the Airborne Law Enforcement Assoiciation. The Helicopter Unit is manned 24 hours a day, with 10 hour shifts. This decade saw a tremendous boost in auto theft reports, The helicopter is the best tool for spotting stolen vehicles, many of which are still occupied by the thieves when Air-1 arrives on the scene.
When the US military made available their surplus OH-58 helicopters to civilian law enforcement agencies, Dallas received two of these airships in 1996. They were converted to civilian configuration for Dallas by Texas Aviation Services of Ft. Worth. Click here for more photos and information about the OH-58s. Dallas now has four Bell helicopters. Even though operating these helicopters cost the City of Dallas $1.4 million a year, you can bet the ground units think it's worth every penny. The Department chase policy now allows patrol officers to back off from high-speed chases when the helicopter arrives. The helicopter will follow a suspect vehicle telling the ground units when the vehicle pulls over. This method has saved numerous lives that might have been lost while officers chase suspects at high rates of speed. One warm summer afternoon in 1997, my partner, Senior Corporal Sid Howell and I, were heading back to the airport after a patrol flight. We became involved in one of those chases you never forget. Sid was piloting, with me riding observer. As we were getting close to the airport, the dispatcher put out a bank robbery call. Unlike many other calls, on this one a witness had gotten a good look at the get away car. Sid turned the helicopter toward the address of the bank. In a matter of a few seconds I told the dispatcher that we arrived at the bank. Sid and I started searching for the suspect car. Just a few blocks from the bank, we spotted a dark car that fit the description given to us by the dispatcher. I directed ground units to the car's location. When the red lights came on, the driver hit the gas and the chase was on. As I broadcast the car's location and direction of travel, I could not believe what I was seeing. The suspect in the right rear seat started shooting at the pursuing officers with a high powered rifle. I immediately notified the officers to drop back. The driver attempted a right turn but was going too fast to make it. The car hit the curb and damaged the front end. Unable to drive any further, the driver pulled the car to the curb. The man in the back seat was still shooting at the police cars behind him. As the suspect's car stopped, three doors flew open and three suspects jumped out and ran. The suspect in the rear seat got out of the car, and continued shooting at the officers. Then, all of the sudden, he turned the rifle toward the helicopter. Before I could say anything, the suspect had fired three rounds at us. We were low and slow and I could see the muzzle flash from the rifle. The shooter then ran between two houses and we lost sight of him. The other two suspects were quickly apprehended in the area. The suspect who shot at us, turned himself in a few days later. We inspected the helicopter for damage but found that the suspect had missed us. A few months later, when we went to trial the first time, I received another start. I read the official police report and learned that the suspect's gun had jammed after the third shot. There had been over twenty rounds of ammo left in the rifle. All three suspects received very long prison sentences.
Other Police Helicopters & Links|
Concord, CA's Helicopter Unit
Drew's World of Choppers
Helicopter History Site
Helicopter Web Ring
Humberside (UK) Air Support
Huntington Beach Helicopters
Lancashire Police Air Support Unit Albuquerque, NM - Air Support Unit
San Antonio, TX Helicopter Unit
Topeka, KS AirUnit
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