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> Investigations Bureau > Air Support

Kern County Sheriff's Office
Air Support Unit
1350 Norris Road
Bakersfield, California
Phone: (661) 391-7500

The Kern County Sheriff’s Department Air Support Unit consists of airborne assets in the form of three fixed wing airplanes and five helicopters.  Various missions are flown daily which may include surveillance flights, administrative transport, search and rescue missions, and law enforcement patrol. Regardless of the mission type, the Kern County Sheriff’s Air Support unit is committed to supporting all public safety agencies within Kern County, the State of California, and the U.S. Federal Government.  The unit strives to maintain a constant state of readiness as an airborne asset to assist all those in need regardless of the time, day or night, civilian or sworn.  The unit’s goal is to support ground personnel in all operations and to make sure all those involved make it home safely.  Most importantly, the unit has the distinct honor of assisting the Kern County Sheriff’s Department and its members in their daily commitment to work in partnership with our community to enhance the safety, security, and quality of life for the residents and visitors of Kern County through professional public safety services.


Unit History

In 1972, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department started the Air Support Unit with the purchase of a brand new Bell 47 helicopter.  Bell 47 helicopters were used extensively by the U.S. Army during the Korean War for medical evacuation of soldiers wounded in combat.  This little helicopter is seen in the opening credits of the 1970‘s hit TV series “MASH“.  The Sheriff’s helicopter, affectionately nicknamed “Little Hal” after local reporter Hal Lafoon, flew patrol missions until 1975. In 1975, Little Hal crashed while patrolling the Kern River Canyon when it struck electric aerial wires inside the mouth of the canyon.  The helicopter was destroyed but, thankfully, both crewmembers survived.

Following the destruction of the Bell 47, the department purchased a Hughes 500C.  This helicopter flew until 1978 when the Air Unit was deactivated due to the lack of funding.  In 1984, the Air Unit was reinstated.  A Bell 206B, commonly known as the Jet Ranger, was leased and used until 1987 at which time the department purchased two new MD 500E helicopters equipped with Spectrolab SX-16 searchlights.

The new MD 500E helicopters, upgraded and enhanced versions of the Hughes 500C, are still being flown today.  These two helicopters, although over twenty years old, have been maintained by a dedicated staff of aircraft mechanics lead by Adam Valdez, Supervisor of Aircraft Maintenance.  Due to meticulous maintenance, they still fly the skies over Kern County.



In 1998, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department Air Support Unit began an in-house flight training program.  Sworn deputies assigned to the Air Unit, full time, are offered the chance to obtain their private and commercial pilot certificates in helicopters.  As of 2008, six sworn deputies have received in-house flight training by one of our instructors, civilian Chief Flight Instructor Berto Penaloza, or Sheriff’s Deputy and Flight Instructor Doug Ely. History was made in 1998 when Berto joined the unit with a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) certificate.  In 2003, Deputy Ely again made unit history by becoming the first sworn deputy to become a flight instructor.

Before 1998, Sheriff’s Deputy Norm Canby, who had received his private helicopter pilot license from a civilian flight school, was the first to be trained in-house for his commercial helicopter pilot license. Deputy Canby was followed by Deputy Doug Ely, Sheriff’s Sergeant Randy Turman, Sheriff’s Sergeant Jess Baker, Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Caughron, Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Austin, and Sheriff’s Deputy John McAdoo.  Sheriff’s Deputy CJ Martin made history becoming the unit’s first twin engine flight instructor.   The Air Support Unit enjoys the success of its in-house helicopter pilot training with more pilots to be trained in its future with the addition of  Lieutenant James Morrison, Sheriff’s Deputy Justin Weidenkopf, and Sheriff’s Deputy Jeremy Storar.

Air Support Unit - Full Time Crewmembers:

Unit Supervisor - Lt. James Morrison
Chief Flight Instructor/Pilot - Berto Penaloza
Command Pilot/Flight Instructor - Deputy Tim Caughron
Command Pilot/TFO - Deputy Kevin Austin
Command Pilot/Flight Instructor - Deputy CJ Martin
Command Pilot/TFO - Deputy John McAdoo
Medical Specialist - Deputy Brad Brandon
TFO Deputy - Justin Weidenkopf
TFO Deputy - Jeremy Storar

Air Support Unit - Part Time Crewmembers:

Command Pilot - Deputy Randy Turman
Command Pilot - Senior Deputy Bob Riggs

Air Support Unit - Aircraft Mechanics:

Adam Valdez - Supervisor of Maintenance/A&P Mechanic
Jeff Nunes - A&P Mechanic
Edmund Esparza - A&P Mechanic

  Aircraft & Equipment


Fixed Wing Aircraft:

Cessna Turbo Centurion T-210 N
Cessna Turbo Stationair T-206H
Turbo Commander 690A


Two- MD 500E
Two- Bell OH-58A+
Bell Huey II


Spectrolab SX-26 searchlights
FLIR Systems 2000AB thermal imager and monitors
FLIR Systems 8500 thermal imagers with Laserdine Monitors 10.4inch
Aero-Computers Moving Map Systems

Air Support's Favorite Links:

Airborne Law Enforcement Assocation Home Page
County of Kern Government Services

The Police Officer's Internet Directory
The California Peace Officers' Memorial