Pilot Journal
Monday, May 1, 2006

CHiPs In The Sky

Ever seen those signs that say “Patrolled By Aircraft”?

CHiPs In The SkyCalifornia’s state police have used fixed-wing aircraft to patrol the Golden State’s roads for more than 30 years. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) first used Maule M4s, then transitioned to a dozen Cessna 185s. The universally beloved and talented utility taildraggers offered a forgiving personality, reasonable speed and good off-airport capability. Like 185s everywhere, the CHP Skywagons were revered by their pilots and generally regarded as flying jacks of all trades. " />

chips in the sky
Each CHP pilot typically flies about four hours per day, or 80 hours per month.
Texiera says there are some instances when a landing becomes necessary. In one case, the CHP had been advised of a suicide threat and was directed to a car out in the Central Valley. An air unit was dispatched, spotted the car and, because of the immediacy of the situation, landed on the highway to make certain there was no one in it.

The CHP’s aircraft typically work hard to earn their keep. “We generally fly each airplane about four hours a day, so each pilot and flight officer can generally log 80 hours monthly. Our pilots must have at least two years of patrol experience before they can apply, and the flight requirements are a commercial license with instrument rating and a minimum of 300 hours. Patrol missions usually demand two officers on board, a pilot and flight officer, and we’ll occasionally use the airplanes on time-critical, pure transport trips as well, running personnel around the state as necessary. It’s a big, comfortable airplane for that job, reasonably fast and a good IFR platform. We rarely carry more than three people, and to that end, we’ve removed the aft two seats.

“With the 206, the cargo doors make it easy to load whatever we need to carry, and we usually need to carry a lot,” Texiera admits. “A fully equipped CHP 206 has about 700 pounds of payload. There’s plenty of room and weight allowance for such things as an emergency medical kit and a large survival pack in case we go down in a remote area.”

Sergeant Texiera says highway surveillance does comprise a major portion of the unit’s flights. The Stationairs often operate at 1,000 feet AGL in traffic mode, lower over uncongested areas, usually motoring along at 100 knots or less to keep a close watch on the traffic below. By definition, the CHP pilots become experts at slow flight, often droning along at speeds as low as 80 knots with partial flaps deployed for hours. The aerial units coordinate with ground assets to determine the predesignated areas of interest where patrol cars will be readily available.

“We don’t normally patrol for more than a few hours, but if we had to, using such dramatically reduced power settings, we could loiter for eight or nine hours, and that gives us a great edge over helicopters which typically have only two or three hours of fuel available at most.


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