How does one actually become a law enforcement helicopter of fixed wing pilot? This is a question asked by many young people who one day aspire to be a pilot, or more specifically a law enforcement pilot. The standard answer you will hear, is that most police agencies “hire their pilots from within.” This is true for the most part but let’s take a closer look at this possible career choice. Another related question I see often is how much do law enforcement pilots make?
Indeed there are some agencies who hire civilian pilots. We will take a closer look at this in a future article.
First let’s look at where most of the law enforcment pilots are found in the United States. By far the vast majority are found in state and local law enforcement agencies. In other words your local police and sheriff’s department, or your state highway patrol. Yes there are a number of federal agencies who employee pilots, but the vast majority are local law enforcement agencies.
Take LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) for example. They operate approximately 18 aircraft, most of which are helicopters, and have somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 people assigned to their aviation unit. They are one of the largest law enforcement aviation units in the country, if not the largest.
I probably don’t have to tell you that the helicopter dominates the law enforcement aircraft inventory, though many agencies will operate one or two fixed wing aircraft for prisoner transports and surveillance operations. So the majority of law enforcement pilots are helicopter pilots.
The vast majority of agencies do in fact take their sworn officers and deputies, and either train them in house, or send them to flight school to obtain their helicopter pilot license. Why do they do it this way instead of just hiring people who are already pilots? Well I can’t answer for every agency, but suffice it to say that the majority do, do it this way and they have for many years.
So how long would you have to spend on the ground as a patrol officer before being able to transfer into a law enforcement air unit? This varies significantly from agency to agency. There is usually a minimum amount of time, such as 2 or 4 years, and then there is the actual time and experience you will need in order to be competetive for such a position. I know of some law enforcement officers who were able to transfer into their air units with as little as 5 or 6 years on the department.
About that pay. Most law enforcement pilots do receive a premium pay for being a pilot in the air unit. However, all you really need to do is look at the salary of a law enforcement officer on a large department with about 10 years on. This will give you a good idea of what a law enforcement pilot makes. Depending on the part of the country I would estimate most law enforcement pilots are making $60,000 to $70,000 at a minimum. Some make much more. Ultimately, law enforcement and law enforcement pilot are excellent and rewarding career choices.
Source by Darryl Kimiball