Monday, May 1, 2006
CHiPs In The Sky
Ever seen those signs that say “Patrolled By Aircraft”?
California’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. " />
“Contrary to popular belief, we don’t time speeders between known points on the ground,” Texiera explains. “The courts have ruled that that’s illegal because it represents a speed trap. Instead, we must match speed exactly with a speeder and time ourselves between those two points.
“With the aerial units, we don’t normally bother with anyone driving slower than about 80 mph, but we’ll often see drivers doing 100 mph or more,” says Texiera. “The T206 has a max speed of 140 knots available down low—that’s 160 mph in an automobile—so we can be fairly certain we’ll catch virtually everyone we go after. Perhaps the single most valuable benefit of the airplane for traffic watch is the ability to coordinate and direct ground units. If we’re chasing a bad guy, he has very little chance of escaping with the Stationair overhead. Even a Ferrari can’t outrun a radio.”
Texiera feels the T206 is practically ideal for the CHP’s specialized missions. “It’s generally a very reliable airplane, and our mechanics don’t normally run into anything they haven’t seen before. Systems are simple, the gear is tough and the Lycoming engine and AiResearch turbo are reasonably trouble free. Flying the airplanes as much as 1,000 hours yearly, we obviously have to keep them in excellent condition all the time, and it’s a tribute to the new generation at Cessna that we can do that.”
Texiera suggests that there’s a PR aspect to his job, as well—the CHP puts in regular appearances at air shows and county fairs around California, explaining the mission of the air units and recruiting for the CHP at the same time. “A flying position with the CHP is considered something of a plum, and there are often many applicants for open positions.”
So if you happen to be tooling down the interstate at 90 or so, or even zipping along a quiet, country road where you’re sure there’s no patrol car for miles, think again. The police may be flying above you, arranging for your next ticket a few miles down the road.
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