After the tragic death of Constable Rick Sonnenberg in October 1993, the Rick Sonnenberg Memorial Society was formed and through enormous community support, the Calgary Police Service (CPS) purchased its first helicopter.
On July 18, 1995 the CPS HAWC helicopter went airborne on its inaugural operational flight making Calgary the first municipal police agency in Canada to have a full-time patrol helicopter program.
What role does HAWCS play?
HAWCS flies 24/7 and takes off and lands at different times during the day as the call load dictates. The HAWC helicopter responds to life threatening incidents, air support for ground units, and has an increased efficiency to detect, prevent and reduce crime through aerial patrols.
The helicopter is used in all types of calls. The police helicopter is not used for photo radar in the air but if the crew observes a vehicle that is committing an offence, a call is placed to the ground units in the area to deal with the offender. The helicopter can get from one end of the city to the other very quickly because other than air traffic we don’t have the same traffic that the officers on the ground have to contend with.
The police helicopter is a very useful tool in keeping the citizens of Calgary safe and providing much needed aerial support to members of the CPS that work on the ground. Last year alone the helicopter responded to 4,887 calls for service.
Who operates HAWCS?
The HAWCS crew is always comprised of a police officer, (tactical flight officer) and a helicopter pilot. All of our pilots are civilian members employed by The City of Calgary.
What type of helicopter do you use and why did you choose it?
The CPS Air Support Unit flies two EC-120 helicopters. These are one of the quietest helicopters available today. This style of helicopter has an enclosed tail rotor, called a fenestron, which reduces the noise signature of the aircraft.
This helicopter was chosen for its low noise output, as it is very important that we fly neighbour friendly over Calgary. The helicopter does not orbit in neighbourhoods unless the crew is looking for something or someone on the ground.
The HAWCS helicopter has a lot of specialized equipment. We operate a daylight/thermal imager camera that allows us to not only see images similar to a standard video camera but also thermal images that are visible through the emission of heat. This is very effective, especially at night.
The helicopter also has the latest technology in mapping systems to get us to where we need to be quickly. The pilot and the tactical flight officer also wear night vision goggles. We have a 30 million candle watt light that can assists us at night.
Isn’t it dangerous flying near the airport?
Calgary is one of the busiest airports in Canada and is unique in some aspects because of all of the residential areas that are in a very close proximity to the airport proper. The HAWCS crew is very fortunate to have a very good working relationship with the air traffic controllers that allow us to operate, when necessary, very close to the airport.
Why is using laser light dangerous for air traffic?
The danger of shining laser lights or any bright light source at an aircraft is the dazzling or blinding effect of light when it hits the canopy of the cockpit. The likelihood is large that there will be multiple stray beams that will light up the cockpit and distract the pilot. Besides being dangerous, it is also a criminal offence.
Do you offer rides in HAWCS or sell any souvenirs?
As it is very important for the HAWCS helicopter to remain in the air on operations, we do not offer rides to the public and we do not sell HAWCS memorabilia.
How can I become a HAWCS pilot?
Our pilots are very experienced. For pilots interested in becoming a HAWCS pilot we have a minimum of 3,000 helicopter flying hours. When a job opening for pilots occurs the posting is always done through The City of Calgary.