Kern County Sheriff's Office
Air Support Unit
1350 Norris Road
Phone: (661) 391-7500
The Kern County Sheriff’s Department Air Support Unit consists of airborne assets in the form of two fixed wing airplanes and five helicopters. Various missions are flown daily which may include surveillance flights, administrative transport, search and rescue and law enforcement patrol. No matter the type of mission, the Kern County Sheriff’s Air Support unit is committed to supporting all public safety agencies within Kern County, the Sate of California and the US 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 its 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.
In 1972 the Kern County Sheriff’s Department created it first Air Support Unit with the purchase of a brand new Bell 47 helicopter. Bell 47 helicopters were used extensively by the US 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” for a local reporter Hal Lafoon, flew patrol 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, this type known as the Jet Ranger, was leased and used until 1987 when 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 look and operate as new.
In 1987 the Sheriff’s Department seized a Cessna Turbo Centurion T-210N fixed wing airplane through the asset forfeiture process during a narcotics investigation. It is still in use today for investigative operations and administrative transport.
In 1990 the department purchased two FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared) thermal imagers for the helicopters. Even though they are no longer considered state-of- the art imagers, they are still used by the unit and are invaluable tools used in the apprehension of criminals and surveillance operations. These FLIR units will eventually be replaced with the latest thermal imaging systems which offer better capabilities.
In 1997 the department obtained two Bell OH-58A+ helicopters from the United States Department of Defense, through the California Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning. The civilian equivalent to the Bell Jet Ranger, these two helicopters were in excellent condition having served with the Army National Guard in south Dakota. They were obtained at no cost to the County of Kern. Each of these helicopters were re-furbished in-house and painted in the Air Unit’s white, green and gold paint scheme. Like the other two MD 500E helicopters, these OH-58A+ helicopters are meticulously maintained. They also use the same Spectrolab SX-16 searchlights and FLIR imaging systems. One OH-58A+ is currently outfitted with an external load hook and is used for long-line operations. Hundreds of thousands of marijuana plants are removed from illegal marijuana grows, usually in the mountainous areas, each year using the OH-58A+ with this external hook.
In 2001 the department received a state grant from the Governor’s Office of Criminal Justice Planning to purchase a brand new Cessna Turbo Stationair T-206H fixed wing aircraft. This airplane is used for investigative operations and is equipped with the latest in surveillance equipment, including a GyroCam broadcast quality camera with night vision capabilities.
In 2006 the unit began using the latest in night vision goggles, ANVIS-9, for nighttime helicopter operations. These goggles, also used by the four US military branches, were purchased with a grant from the office of the US Department of Homeland Security. These goggles afford the aircrews with enhanced safety and capabilities never seen before since the unit’s creation.
In 2007, Sheriff Donny Youngblood approached the Kern County Board of Supervisors and requested the funds to purchase a new medium lift helicopter. Sheriff Youngblood saw the need for a larger helicopter with more power and lift capabilities than the four smaller helicopters currently in the unit’s inventory. Bell’s Huey II was chosen to fill the medium lift roll. This helicopter allows more personnel to be transported at one time and is equipped with a Goodrich external hoist used for rescue operations. It is also equipped with a “fast-rope” system which allows for a quick insertion of the sheriff’s Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team. The Huey II, because of it’s better performance in high altitude, high temperature operations, offers capabilities and safety for the aircrew and personnel involved.
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 either our 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.
Sheriff’s Deputy Norm Canby, who had received his private helicopter pilot license from a civilian flight school, before 1998 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 and Deputy Sheriff Kevin Austin. 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 Sergeant Melanson and Deputies McAdoo, Nelson and Warren.
Air Support Unit - Full Time Crewmembers:
Tim Melanson - Sheriff’s Sergeant/OIC/TFO
Norm Canby - Deputy Sheriff/Pilot/TFO/TFO Instructor **
Doug Ely - Deputy Sheriff/Flight Instructor/Pilot/TFO **
Tim Caughron - Deputy Sheriff/Pilot/TFO
Kevin Austin - Deputy Sheriff/Pilot/TFO
John McAdoo - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Mark Warren - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Jason Nelson - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Berto Penaloza - Pilot/Chief Flight Instructor **
Air Support Unit - Part Time Crewmembers:
Randy Turman - Deputy Sheriff/Pilot/TFO
Chris Banks - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Ryan Dunbier - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Richard Garrett - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
Steve Williams - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
C.J. Martin - Deputy Sheriff/TFO
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
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
Airborne Law Enforcement Assocation Home Page
Air Support's Favorite Links:
County of Kern Government Services
The Police Officer's Internet Directory
The California Peace Officers' Memorial