Today I got to be a part of a very special event that paid tribute to 11 local officers who have been killed in the line of duty since 1924. Every year, the San Jose Police Department honors these officers with a ceremony at City Hall with flags lowered to half staff and a fly over with their EC-120 “AIR 2”. And this year, neighboring law enforcement helicopters from the Santa Clara County Sheriff Office and California Highway Patrol participated in the flyover as well. I was able to fly aboard STAR 1, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s helicopter and shoot the other two helos during the formation flight over San Jose’s City Hall.
Around 11am, CHP 32 hover taxied on the NASA ramp at Moffett Field and landed in front of Hangar 211. As they gently set down next to STAR1 and AIR2, preparations were being finalized for this special flyover. Coordination between the lead aircraft and the ground controller ensures that the aircraft are over City Hall on time. But just as important, there has to be coordination between the three aircraft flying.
With SJPD acting as the lead aircraft, it is their responsibility to coordinate with not just the ground crew, but also with air traffic control and the other aircraft. With so much on the line, two of the Air Support Units finest were on board AIR2 to handle all of the communications. With Maj Sullivan acting as the Safety Observer, he coordinated with the ground crew to ensure the formation hit their mark on time. And Pilot Bill McMullen flew the lead in our three ship helo formation. He was in charge of talking to Air Traffic Control and communicating with the other two pilots.
And with safety as the number one priority, there was a detailed preflight briefing before taking off. AIR2 will be the lead aircraft and will use the callsign POLICE1. We will be a flight of three. STAR1 will be the second helo in the left echelon formation and have the call sign DASH-2. CHP32 will be the third and DASH-3. We will take off at 12:20pm and fly VFR along Highway 101 and form up over Spartan Stadium. Check in on the discrete frequency, and POLICE1 will skwak and DASH-2, -3 skwak standby. We will enter a left hand racetrack holding pattern till we are called in. With a ground speed of 60kts, that will give us a 1 minute time till target over City Hall.
And then it was time to get airborne. With Jason Hertzel piloting the helo, I was able to get some great shots of CHP’s Eurocopter AStar. And thanks to Al Romero in the left seat for keeping us safe. 🙂
And then we got the call. 1 minute till we have to be over City Hall. Tighten up the formation, go a little bit lower in altitude and start the run. And just like that, we were right on time! HOORAAAHH!! 😉 Everyone at attention, and flags at half staff.
And then it was time to bug out. But before everyone split off, it was time for STAR1 to take the lead and for me to get a chance to shoot the CHP and SJPD helo. 🙂
And then it was time for CHP32 to head back up to Napa. Later Al and Jason!!!
POLICE1 then took back the lead and off we went back to Moffett Field.
The Sheriff’s department was kind enough to allow me to fly aboard their aircraft and capture images of the SJPD and CHP. As usual Rob Hyde was a rockstar pilot and put the helo in the perfect position for me to get the angle I needed for the shot. And of course Bill Oberst kept an eye out on me so I didn’t fall out of the bird. =P
Here is a shot of me taken by SJPD Pilot Sullivan. 🙂
A very special thanks to Bill and Rob from the Sheriff’s Air Support Unit, Bill and Mike from the SJPD Air Support Unit, and Al and Jason from the CHP Golden Gate Division. See you guys at Vertical Challenge!