The Oakland County Sheriff's Aviation Unit started on June 5, 2001, and continues to be an excellent addition to our crime fighting arsenal. Now comprised of two state-of-the-art helicopters, the Aviation Unit was made possible through the privatization of the Oakland County Jail’s food service (saving $1.6 million a year) with no additional costs to the taxpayer. Both aircraft are equipped with highly sophisticated avionics, electronics, and camera equipment. Although one aircraft is functionally parked/stored due to budget reductions, this aircraft remains capable of flying should the need arise.
The Aviation Unit is one of the most technologically advanced and efficient law enforcement tools. In an era when homeland security concerns are paramount to law enforcement and Oakland County residents alike, the Unit is an invaluable asset. In 2019, the Aviation Unit responded to 623 calls for service and clocked 421 flight hours.
The aircraft and their equipment are a “force multiplier” for law enforcement. One helicopter in the air can cover as much territory as 12 officers in patrol cars on the ground, and more rapidly. The primary function continues to be that of support for ground units. The FLIR system(s), Night Sun search light, Broadcast Microwave down link, and the ability to communicate with every law enforcement and fire agency in the county serve as testimony to the tremendous asset the Unit provides. The mapping system is also capable of producing specific parcel data which makes property lines visible thereby making air-to-ground coordination much easier. Due to this equipment, the response time to calls has been reduced considerably.
The Aviation Unit is available to every Oakland County police department 24 hours a day/seven days a week and assists local police agencies with directed patrols on a regular basis. In addition, traffic/crowd control support was provided to local police agencies during the 2020 Dream Cruise where over 1.5 million people were in attendance.
The helicopters are invaluable in assisting in emergency situations, including:
- Searching for suspects wanted for crimes such as rape, robbery, and other felony and misdemeanor crimes.
- Eliminating the need for dangerous police car chases
- Searching for missing children and Alzheimer patient walk-aways
- Conducting building searches
- Crowd control
In addition, the helicopters assist the Oakland County Sheriff's Office Marine Division and Dive Rescue Team with search and rescue operations, as well as assisting the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) with tactical operations.
Special equipment on the helicopters include forward-looking infrared units (FLIR) that can detect heat sources in total darkness, and a 30 million-candlepower remote spot light called Night Sun, because of its ability to illuminate a pitch-dark area as if it was high noon on a summer day. Most recently, the Aviation Unit equipped and trained pilots in utilizing Night Vision Goggles (NVG), which not only increases the safety margin but also works hand-in-hand with the Infra-Red systems. Both aircraft are equipped with "open sky" radio systems as well as VHF radios. This allows for communication with virtually every LE, FD, EMS entity operating within Oakland County.
Facts on Oakland County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit helicopters:
- Make: Airbus Helicopters—Assembled in Mississippi.Model; Astar 350 B2
- Engine: Single turbine, 745 horsepower
- Seating: Six; useful load capacity 4961 pounds
- Maximum Speed: 155 knots, 178 mph
- Maximum Altitude: 19,000 ft.
- Maximum fuel: 143 gallons
- Flight Time: 3.5 hours with full fuel
- Length: 42.5 ft.
- Rotor Diameter: 35 ft.
- Tail Rotor: 6 ft.
- 30 million-candlepower Night Sun remote spotlight
- Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) Thermal Imaging system camera/recorder
- Color video system
- Computerized street mapping/ tracking/ display
- LoJack Stolen Vehicle Recovery System
- Global Positioning System with integrated moving map display, lightning strike weather avoidance system and aircraft collision avoidance system
- BMS microwave video downlink system
- UHF/VHF radio system provides communication with police, fire, EMS and all other emergency services.
- VHF low band provides communication with military, Coast Guard, Marine and other Governmental Agencies
- 800 mhz police radio with full scan operation
- Color video system
- Digital Recorder
Audio file of Sheriff Bouchard on the value of the Sheriff's Office's Aviation Unit