05 March 2007

Over Los Angeles on a Clear Day

This isn't a historical post but as one of the most exciting experiences on my recent trip to L.A. and Anaheim I thought it blog worthy:-)

I accompanied my husband to his world conference for club managers in Anaheim for several days this month. To keep me out of mischief (in other words to keep me out of harm's way of gorgeous shoes and designer outfits yelling my name) he asked a favor of his best friend. His friend hired a 26 year veteran LAPD helicopter pilot as the head pilot for his club. A whisper in this helpful man's ear and my friend, Kun Hwa, and I were saved from a day of epic shopping.

We were both coldly awakened from delicious dreams of Dior, Versace, Louis, waiting on our every whim to hear we had had an hour to make ourselves presentable and speed to downtown L.A. from Anaheim. We made it but whether or not we were actually presentable is another story.

After breakfast our pilot and tactical officer presented waivers for us to sign 'just in case.'

'Um, just in case of what?' I ask.

'In case the bad guys shoot at us. In case we dive and you hit your head on the way down. That sort of thing.'

'You mean we could actually get shot at for real?!'

'Oh yeah. We could crash.'

Mmmm. Breakfast had been settling nicely until now.

One of the guys sent us a cocky smile. 'Sure you want to go up for 3 hours?'

'You bet we do! When are we going?' Kun Hwa is a rocket. Nothing scares her.

'This way.' The pilot led the way to the roof and took his pick of several helicopters.

When he opened the door I saw the back seat was really quite roomy. I had thought helicopters would be cramped. Kun Hwa and I slid into our seats, applied our earplugs, fastened our lap and shoulder straps, then fit the ear phones over our head so we could hear all communication coming and going. The tactical officer handed us sick bags which both Kun Hwa and I threw on the floor. We've always had iron tummies.

Just before take off the pilot warns us there are no potty stops. We only stop if on of the passengers can't take the ride and must debark. He adds in a slick tone that last week his macho cop friend only lasted an hour. Did we really think we'd last the full 3 hour shift?

Kun Hwa looked out the window and said, 'Isn't it about time we went?'

Off we took, going straight down. Yep, felt a little vertigo there, but then he was off roaring for the Hollywood sign. It was a bright, clear, sunny day. No clouds, smog, or mist. After hovering over the famous sign - which I hadn't seen in person since I was 5 years old - we flew over a few movie stars' mansions and Universal Studios.

As it turned out this Saturday from 11am - 2pm was slow crime wise. No murders, robberies, or car chases. Only three domestic violence calls.

The LAPD helicopters provide air support to ground officers. The helicopter circles the problem site, relaying pertinent information to the ground troups. The tactical officer uses the PA and siren when needed. When they are no longer needed they fly to another call.

Sometimes SWAT calls the trusty heliptor crew. Special outside benches must be attatched so safely belted SWAT officers can target the bad guys when the helo pilot dives. Scary stuff. My hands and feet perspired heavily looking at those photos of the real thing.

We were privelegded to fly over all of Los Angeles County from the Hollywood sign to the stunningly beautiful Venice Beach. Living in Hawaii I didn't think our beaches could be beat, but Venice is as good as it gets!

Between sightseeings we learned that an LAPD officer must work traffic for 5 years before he/she may qualify to take the helicopter tactical officer test. The job of the tactical officer, who sits on the pilot's left, is to man the GPS system, so the pilot knows exactly where he/she must go. The TO takes all in coming calls, maps them, and keeps up with the 5 frequencies broadcast. After about 5 years of successful tacticals the person is looked at to be groomed for the next pilot opening.

The helicopter manuevered some serious forward and sideways dives. Better that any Disney ride! I will always remember this as a truly fabulous day.

As great as this trip was, it did come with a downside. Just before heading for the 'barn' the TO and the pilot showed us a gang controlled housing project. If one is in need of special income housing, one is not afforded a choice. One is sent to one and that's that. This (think one of the primary colors) gang controlled this project with a tight fist. The residents lived under the gang's thumb. Lots of cars, shirts, and hats of a certain bright color. Very unfortunatley, there is no way of keeping your children out of that gang.

When we landed at the end of the shift both the pilot and tactical officer praised Kun Hwa and me for being such great passengers. We were no trouble to them at all. Both officers were friendly and made us feel very welome and posed for our photos afterwards.

Hey, Kun Hwa, when are we doing this again?