Air Support is staffed by seven officer-pilots, two mechanics, and a supervisor/pilot, who operate three Bell JetRanger turbine-powered helicopters. The aircraft fly about 3,300 hours each year and are maintained to the highest possible standards by the highly experienced mechanics. Since the unit was established in 1972, it has earned an excellent safety record through rigorous initial and recurrent training programs. All Air Support pilots are commercial-rated pilots and crosstrained in fixed wing operations.
Police helicopters are a "force multiplier." The aerial view gives the helicopter crew 15 times the surveillance capacity of a ground unit. That capability, combined with the speed at which the helicopter can get a flight crew to a crime scene (usually less than 2 minutes), provides an advantage that often assures an arrest. The Tucson Police Department Air Support Unit responds to an average of 12,000 calls every year and participated in over 700 arrests last year.
In addition to crimes in progress, the TPD helicopter (known as AIR-1) supports officers on the ground by searching for missing or lost persons, checking roofs of businesses, lighting collision and other incident scenes, and providing an airborne command and control center. The helicopter is equipped with night vision equipment, Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR), and a 30 million-candlepower night searchlight. The latest addition is a video downlink system for command and control situations or natural disasters.