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Gainesville CAP Members Take a Closer Look at the Eyes in the Sky

posted Oct 11, 2012, 6:30 PM by William McCombie
GAINESVILLE, Fl - The skies above the city of Gainesville are shared by many types of aircraft. During University of Florida football games, for example, while planes bring fans from out of town to the Gainesville Regional Airport, blimps, banners, news helicopters, and even fighter jets are a common sight above the university's football stadium. Among these aircraft is the fleet of police helicopters, patrolling the area for potential threats and ensuring public safety.

On August 30, 2012, cadet and senior members of the Gainesville Composite Squadron of Civil Air Patrol got the chance to see these helicopters up close during a tour of the Joint Aviation Unit located at the Gainesville Regional Airport with pilots Richard Bray and Justin Poirot. “It was an interesting inside look at what the [Gainesville] Police and the Sheriff's department does in the sky” commended C/TSgt Ethan Beaman. Founded in 1996 as a cooperative effort between the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office with a single Vietman-era helicopter, the unit now has three ex-military OH-58 “Kiowa” helicopters.

At the time of the tour, one of the three helicopters was partially dismantled. Out of service since December, this helicopter had suffered engine failure and went into an auto-rotation, a state during which the helicopter's rotors are only powered by the wind flowing over them. Richard Bray, who was piloting the helicopter at the time, was able to successfully land the helicopter so smoothly and with such minimal damage that the other officer on board did not realize that there was an emergency. Bray was awarded a Medal of Valor for his efforts.

Other parts of the tour included the resident cat named “Chopper”, as well as a turbine engine that would normally power one of the helicopters and some of the equipment used aboard, including a 30 million candlepower search light and specialized camera and remote viewing equipment. “The tour was informative, engaging, and unique. We learned about the low-profile yet highly vital job of our brave 'Officers in the sky'”, said C/CMSgt Joseph Cook.