The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department has operated aircraft since the 1940s. Currently, the primary service aircraft is a 2012 Cessna 206; it was obtained through a Homeland Security Grant in cooperation with the Port of Tacoma. Designated “Pierce One,” the aircraft is equipped with a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera, satellite street-overlay mapping system, video recorder and real-time video down-link capabilities.
The Air Unit’s secondary aircraft is an older Cessna 206 (Pierce Two); it was obtained by civil seizure, following an illegal drug manufacturing investigation in the mid 1980s. “Pierce Two” is also equipped with a FLIR camera and related technologies; it is used for pilot/TFO training, transport missions, and as a back-up aircraft when Pierce One is down for scheduled maintenance.
A Unique Combination
The Air Unit comprises a sergeant, four Sheriff’s Department pilots, two volunteer pilots, and six Tactical Flight Officers (TFOs). The TFO operates the FLIR Camera, related mapping and video recording systems. Both aircraft are equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and radio communications equipment. Safety is the guiding operational concern for Air Unit personnel. The unit has not had a single serious accident or injury as a result of its operations.
Since the Air Unit was reactivated in August of 2006, over 340 missions (encompassing over 900 flight hours) have been flown. The Air Unit has assisted local, state, and federal agencies with Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, counter drug efforts, radio communications support, surveillance, aerial photograph, patrol operations and other requests for assistance by various governmental agencies.