Air Support Unit

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The Unit Mission Statement

The mission of the Air Support Unit is to provide effective airborne surveillance and patrol support to bureaus and precincts of the Police Department. Utilizing the precepts of community based policing, unit goals and objectives are in accordance with the Department's Purpose and Value Statements.

The Police Mission

Air Support Unit LogoThe Phoenix Police Department's Air Support Unit has traditionally embraced "Patrol Support" as its primary mission. This means that the unit is there to help those officers in patrol cars out on the street do their job more effectively. This mission has the aircraft responding directly to the needs of the individual citizen that call 911. The police helicopters have not only provided a police presence over a crime scene in two minutes or less, but have also drastically reduced the city's exposure to liability in various police incidents. In addition to being an aerial platform for officers, the aircraft can actually take over certain situations, such as vehicular pursuits, allowing officers on the ground to keep a safe distance. This ability to have an aircraft follow speeding vehicles keeps patrol officers from endangering citizens by driving at unsafe speeds to apprehend suspects. This technique saves lives and reduces city liability. The police helicopter allows the officers onboard to scan an area much greater in size than any ground officer ever could, thus covering a tremendous area.

The Air Support Unit has proven itself to be a highly skilled and diverse team. The mission of the Unit has grown to include Search and Rescue work as well as fire fighting responsibilities. Pilots are continually being assessed to determine how their skills are progressing and what further training they may be qualified for.

A Brief History

The Phoenix Police Department Air Support Unit was first established in 1973 and located at Sky Harbor Airport. It began as a handful of officers flying two small, two-seat, piston engine Hughes 300C helicopters, and one Cessna 172 airplane. In the years that followed, the unit progressed to a fleet of five Hughes 500D turbine helicopters in 1979 with 10 officers and a new multi million dollar facility at Deer Valley Airport. In 1991 the unit acquired a fleet of seven McDonnell Douglas 520N NOTAR turbine helicopters with 23 officers.

As the city continues to grow, so does the demand for police air support. The unit has moved with the times and has stepped up its current fleet to:

  • 1 Agusta A109E, twin engine helicopter purchased in 2005 with a top speed of 193 MPH 
  • 5 Eurocopter AS350B3, single engine purchased in 2005/2011 with a top speed of 150 MPH 
  • 1 Cessna 172, single engine fixed-wing purchased in 1986
  • 1 Cessna 182, single engine fixed-wing purchased in 1979 
  • 1 Cessna P210R, single engine fixed-wing purchased in 2008 
  • 1 Pilatus PC12NG, single engine fixed-wing purchased in 2009

The unit now consists of 25 officers, 2 chief pilots, 2 sergeants, 9 A&P aircraft mechanics, a secretary, and a lieutenant as the on-site commander. The Phoenix Police Air Support Unit currently flies about 8,000 hours a year and has aircraft crews available 24 hours a day to respond to the needs of our citizens.

Unit Organization and Responsibilities

The unit has long been recognized as one of the leading air support units in the country. This status is due to the unit's strict selection process, stringent training regimen, the unfailing dedication of its unit members. All of the unit's sworn members must be police officers first and foremost, with at least three years of experience. Once they have made the decision to try out for the unit, candidates must make a commitment to studying the unit's operations in preparation for a very competitive selection process.


During the 2015 fiscal year the air support unit has been devoted to support Phoenix Police personnel. In addition, the unit has been called upon many times this fiscal year to assist other agencies. The following is a summary of the unit's activity:

  1. Flew 3,771 hours (year to date)
  2. Responded to 9,635 calls for service.
  3. Assisted in 2,069 arrests.
  4. Recovered 230 stolen vehicles.
  5. Assisted in 382 pursuits - vehicle & foot
  6. Executed 87 mountain rescues with our partner in the Phoenix Fire Department.
  7. Rescued 83 victims.

In the News

In 2011 the unit was awarded the large aviation unit Excellence in Police Aviation by the International Chiefs of Police.

The Fire Mission

As pilots become more skilled in their piloting ability, they are selected for fire fighting training. This task is accomplished with use of a "Bambi Bucket". This bucket hangs from the helicopter and allows pilots to drop water on a fire and is very effective in remote areas or on large fires. The filling of the bucket is actually done in the "blind" meaning that the pilot cannot see the bucket while it is being filled. This obviously takes considerable skill. The more senior and experienced pilots are then selected for rescue training. This training is done in conjunction with the Phoenix Fire Department and consists of flying intended to be of use when rescuing stranded or injured subjects in remote or inaccessible areas. Additionally we have the ability to utilize a hoist on the Agusta A109 Power to both insert rescue personnel and extract victims from the mountains around the valley. These diverse mission responsibilities make them truly life savers.

Contact Information

  • 602-262-7427

​Unit Command Staff

  • Lt. Doug Opferbeck
  • Flight Sergeant Doug Steele
  • Flight Sergeant Jon Howard
  • Chief Pilot Paul Apolinar