NYPD's Aviation Unit

The NYPD's aviation unit deploys its high-tech tools and operates as a regional resource to provide mutual aid to smaller surrounding agencies.

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By rescuing two stranded West Point cadets from a rocky cliff upstate in the dead of night, the New York Police Department's Aviation Unit responded to a challenging mission with a smooth rescue operation.

The unit's team of licensed pilots performed their mission with dedicated professionalism using the latest tools available to aviation law enforcement. As such, the aviation unit operates as a regional resource providing mutual aid to smaller surrounding agencies.

"By the very nature of our size, the resources we have in our arsenal give us a distinct advantage over smaller agencies around us," Capt. James Coan tells POLICE Magazine. "At times when they are tasked beyond the capabilities of their resources, they reach out to us."

The unit is currently staffed by 65-75 sworn officers, including 42 licensed pilots and more than 20 maintenance crew members. It's part of the Special Operations Division that also includes the Harbor Unit, Emergency Service Unit, Mounted Unit, K-9 Unit and Hazmat Unit.

Capt. Coan, the unit's commander, manages a fleet of eight aircraft, including four Augusta 119 single-engine craft for patrol and three Bell 412 twin-engine utility craft for search-and-rescue missions. An eighth airship is in the procurement process, and Coan has secured funds for a ninth helicopter.

The unit's missions include air-sea rescue, tactical support, extraction, recovery, executive protection and Bambi (water) bucket drops supporting firefighters for three-alarm fires. A two-man scuba team is available to accompany the three-officer crew for subsurface rescues.

On the night of the cadet rescue, the crew deployed FLIR thermal camera systems, night vision goggles, and the latest in hoist technology. To rescue the stranded cadets, the rescue crew deployed a rescue harness referred to by officers as "the horse collar." Each cadet was rescued individually because the hoist is rated for 600 pounds.

After the rescue, the mother of one of the rescued cadets called Capt. Coan to thank him for his work. She told him, the boy's father is a CW3 Blackhawk helicopter pilot. Officer Steve Browning, who piloted the helicopter that rescued the cadets is himself a CW4 Blackhawk pilot.

"His father is a CW3 pilot in the Army, active duty," Coan said about the cadet. "We were rescuing an Army pilot's son."

The crew was honored Tuesday by Commissioner Ray Kelly, reports the New York Post.


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