Aviation Unit in Action

Click here to view a video demonstrating the equipment in flight.

Click here to view a video on how we intend to use the equipment while protecting your civil liberties

Aviation Unit Photo Gallery

Frequently Asked Questions about
The Aviation Unit

The Arlington Police Department recently received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly its two small battery-operated, remotely-controlled helicopters after two years of planning and training. This additional tool is one of many public safety options available to police officers in the ongoing effort to keep Arlington residents and visitors safe. In an effort to help foster a better understanding of the Aviation Unit, when and how it will be operated, and to clarify the aircraft’s capabilities, this web page was created.

How will the police department utilize the Aviation Unit?
They will be used in a variety of public safety applications such as helping us find missing persons, clear major traffic crashes more quickly, aid in assessing damages and losses from natural disasters like floods and tornadoes, and take forensic photographs of complex crime scenes. Our helicopters will NOT be used in car pursuits, issue traffic citations, carry weapons or be used for routine patrols and surveillance.

What are the specifics of the equipment used by the Aviation Unit?
Arlington purchased two small helicopters using federal grant funds. They are battery-operated helicopters that carry consumer grade camera/video equipment and are best suited for situations that require less than an hour flight time due to battery limitations. Each aircraft weighs 11 pounds, is approximately 58 inches long, and 20 inches high.

When and where can the Aviation Unit fly?
At this point, the aircraft can only be flown during daylight hours and less than 400 feet above ground. The small helicopter must be flown within line of sight of the officer who is remotely piloting the helicopter, which essentially means it must be flown in the general area where it takes off. The equipment has to be driven to the incident scene and unloaded after a clearly defined incident perimeter has been established. The police department is not allowed to fly directly over crowds such as football games or parades. Flying north of Interstate Highway 30 is also currently prohibited due to the proximity to the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Why purchase small helicopters instead of larger, more commonly used helicopters?
Unmanned aircraft technology provides an alternative to traditional aviation for law enforcement agencies. Unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft are much cheaper to own and operate than traditional fixed-wing planes and helicopters. Although our small helicopters look similar to hobby aircraft, they are equipped with more sophisticated navigation and communication equipment that allows for safer and more reliable operations and are operated under different FAA regulations.

Who makes the final decision on whether the Aviation Unit is used?
APD has established specific procedures for when and how the unmanned systems can be used. All flights are pre-approved by a command level officer. Officers trained as pilots and safety observers maintain all flight and maintenance records. Notices are issued through the FAA to alert other pilots in the area. They are flown within clearly defined incident perimeters.

Will my privacy be impacted?
No, your privacy will not be impacted. Maintaining an individual's privacy and protecting the civil liberties of all persons is of paramount importance to the department. The Arlington Police Department is bound by federal law and the laws of the State of Texas that direct the use of helicopters of all types and sizes, as it relates to the privacy of citizens. This same case law that applies to manned-helicopter programs that are used in many urban police departments across the country is the same case law that applies to these unmanned systems as well. Both statutory laws and case laws dictate when search warrants must be obtained and provides limits on the use of technology by law enforcement to investigate suspected criminal activity in our community. In other words, if a search warrant is needed to access private property now such as looking in a backyard, then a search warrant would also be needed for accessing private property with our small helicopter. Again, our helicopter program will not be used for arbitrary surveillance and must comply with all federal regulations and laws.


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