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Aviation Section

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A well equipped aviation unit is one of the most valuable assets a law enforcement agency can have and Orange County has one of the best.  The Sheriff's Office first "slipped the surly bonds of earth" in the mid 1950's with a pair of fixed winged aircraft.  

Since then the unit has evolved into one of the premier law enforcement airborne units in America.    

The unit currently has two Bell 407 helicopters, a Bell 206L4 helicopter, and a Bell OH-58C helicopter, along with a Cessna T206H Stationair airplane in its operational inventory.  The circa 1970 OH-58's were acquired through a military surplus program at a cost of $500 each and have logged over 18,000 flight hours since being put into service. The Aviation Section is currently undergoing a fleet modernization project, replacing the military surplus OH-58s with new aircraft, and refurbishing the Bell 407’s.

The function of the Aviation Section is to provide aerial law enforcement support for incidents such as vehicle surveillance, foot pursuits, searches for criminal suspects, searches for missing, lost and/or endangered individuals, providing air cover during critical incidents with the ability to provide live video microwave downlink, photo flights for investigative purposes, pre and post disaster missions, damage assessments, power and blackout assessments, environmental missions and assessments, code enforcement aerial support, search and rescue, fire spotting and other fire support, public relations and educational details, aerial security for presidential and cabinet member visits, and homeland security missions. 

The Sheriff’s Aviation Section also provides aerial support to a variety of governmental partners, including the Orange County Board of County Commissioners, Department of Environmental Protection, OC Fire Department to assist them with wildfire suppression strategies, Orange County Code Enforcement, the Orange County Emergency Operations Center, United States Secret Service, United States Transportation Security Administration, and all of the municipal police departments within Orange County. 

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The mission of the Aviation Section continues to evolve with new technology and through needs assessments based on increased threats.

The Aviation Section conducts missions based on a combination of requests for assistance from the Uniform Patrol and Criminal Investigation Divisions, and through the agency’s Intelligence-Led Policing Efforts. Our #1 customer is, and always has been, the deputy on the ground!

In addition to responding to requests for assistance from deputies and detectives, the Aviation Section provides proactive aerial patrol during peak hours of criminal activity, as identified by the Crime Analysis Section. The goal is to reduce our response time to in-progress crimes, and be on-scene as rapidly as possible. 

The Aviation Section’s number one crime fighting tool continues to be the use of thermal imaging to disclose the position of criminal suspects. The “FLIR” cameras on all of the agency aircraft are very sensitive, and a trained Tactical Flight Observer (TFO) can discover suspects that are hiding in thick brush, up in trees, in garbage cans, and even in the water. When used in conjunction with an agency K-9, this method has an extremely high success rate. Thermal imaging has also been used by the Aviation Section to locate lost hikers, boaters in distress, Alzheimer’s patients, and injured victims of crime.

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The Sheriff's Office takes the training of its personnel seriously and the Aviation Unit is no exception.  All of the pilots in the Aviation Section are qualified as Commercial Pilots by the FAA, and several of the pilots are Certified Flight Instructors as well. Additionally, all of the TFO’s are trained to fly the helicopter in an emergency situation. The Aviation Section embraces a crew concept, with the TFO doing the majority of the airborne police work, leaving the pilot free to concentrate on the safe operation of the aircraft.