She paints a picture from the sky.
That’s how members of the Anaheim PD’s Air Support Bureau describe Angel, the police helicopter that supports officers on the ground — and even pitches in to help battle brush fires.
Behind the Badge OC recently got a behind-the-scenes look at Angel, which actually refers to the name of the APD’s entire air fleet of two Airbus “A Star” AS 350 B-2 helicopters and a 10-seat Cessna Grand Caravan 208B, the latter of which is used for administrative functions — such as extraditions — and surveillance.
Angel joins the Orange County Sheriff Department’s Duke and the Huntington Beach PD’s HB1 fleets (along with the CHP) as O.C. law enforcement’s eyes-in-the-sky, mainly patrolling their own cities but often helping to fight crime throughout the county.
The Angel fleet is based at Fullerton Municipal Airport.
Some fast facts about the Angel unit, which is run by Lt. Dave Vangsness:
— Officers don’t have to be pilots to become members of the Air Support Bureau. The APD puts them through six months of tactical flight officer training followed by 160 hours of instruction at a private helicopter school, followed by on-the-job training with a certified instructor who specializes in jet-powered turbine aircraft. All Angel pilots have to earn an FAA commercial helicopter pilot license.
— Officers take turns in the two front seats of Angel serving as the pilot, whose job is to put Angel where she’s needed, and the TFO, or Tactical Flight Officer – basically the lead cop in the air.
— Including fuel and people, Angel weighs close to 5,000 pounds. Empty she weighs about 4,000 pounds.
— Angel’s fuel tank is kept three-quarters full in case she needs to transport last-minute passengers.
— Angel operates seven days a week, 10 hours per day.
— Established in 1970, the Angel fleet is one of the oldest in Orange County.
— Cops carry guns while patrolling in Angel. They would never shoot from the air; it’s part of their uniform.
— The Angel fleet is used as a support unit of the APD to help officers on the ground. “With any call for service that comes in, if we think we can help, we go up,” Vangsness said. “We can’t help if Angel is sitting on the ground.”
— Angel conducts routing patrols between 800 and 1,000 feet but can conduct surveillance from between 8,000 and 10,000 feet, with the suspects on the ground having no clue she’s up there.
— All APD officers, including new recruits, go on “flyalongs” in Angel to learn about her capabilities.
— Angel will never drop water from her “Bambi bucket” in populated areas; water drops only are made on brush fires.
— Routine Angel patrol flights typically last between 90 minutes and two hours.
— Hovering in one spot takes skill. Vangsness compares the delicate balancing act to “trying to sit on a beach ball in the water.”