AIRBORNE LAW ENFORCEMENT

Texas Dept of Public Safety uses Airbus helos, Cessna Caravan, Pilatus PC12 and more to keep order and protect citizens

For almost 70 years, dedicated DPS officers have flown across Texas to accomplish search & rescue, find marijuana growers, aid in disaster relief, apprehend criminals and spot illegal entrants.


Deputy Asst Dir and Asst Chief Pilot Tim Ochsner supervises the day-to-day operations of the air unit including monitoring the division's 24 aircraft spread across 14 bases in the state.

Add to that the retractable WESCAM MX15 sensor, Churchill Navigation mapping, multi-band radios, downlink system, onboard WiFi, and inflight audio/video recording of prisoners, among other features, and the Pilatus has become the ideal platform to fulfill just about any mission they can throw at it.

Chief Pilot Bill Nabors

Taking on the lead role for the Texas DPS is Chief Pilot Bill Nabors. Being at the top of the Aircraft Operations Division, he also holds the title of Assistant Director in the DPS hierarchy. In this position, he is responsible for the 52 pilots and 22 tactical flight officers (TFOs) assigned full time to the division, in addition to another 4 to 6 part time TFOs loaned to them by local jurisdictions around the state.

A Houston native, Nabors spent 11 years in construction work before following up on his life-long desire to be a police officer. He joined the DPS in 1989 and was fortunate to be assigned to his hometown post. After working the highway patrol for several years, a chance encounter in 1993 helped determine the rest of his career. While working a hit and run accident call, Nabors solicited the assistance of a helicopter to take him airborne so he could find the suspect vehicle.

This Twin Commander is the unit's favorite for high-speed transportation missions.

"From that point on, I was hooked," Nabors recalls. "Over the next several months I spent just about all my money and time getting my private pilot license and instrument rating. Then I took the FAA test." Finishing in the top spot of the testing process allowed him to stay in Houston, where he worked as a line pilot for the next 8 years while also earning his CFI and check-airman status.

In 2001, Nabors transferred to the division's main hub in Austin and began his climb up the promotional ladder, eventually reaching his current spot in 2008. When asked about what makes his unit special, he is quick to point out, "I don't know if it makes us 'special', but the mission that we have covers a very large area and we try to commit to assisting every public safety entity that we can, free of charge. If it's for the safety of the public and you need aviation, we will come running."

Nabors also credits the rapid advancements in technology for the success of the unit. "The equipment has morphed us into the vision that I thought we could be someday. You couple the IR systems, ground-based mapping, downlinking, NVGs and more, with pilots that want to work and make arrests, and you've got a force to reckon with." He is also clear in his belief that Colonel Steve McCraw, DPS director, has had a tremendous impact on the unit and its ability to more effectively do its job.

Nabors points out, "As a former DPS trooper, FBI special agent, and Texas Homeland Security Director, Col McCraw understands the importance that aviation plays to the safety of our people and our borders. He reorganized and modernized our department and has given us the tools we need."

Deputy Assistant Director & Chief Pilot Tim Ochsner

DPS flies 2 Cessna 208 Caravans for missions including surveillance and search and rescue.

The 2nd in command at the Aircraft Operations Division is Tim Ochsner. As deputy assistant director and assistant chief pilot, the 23-year DPS veteran joined after his active duty service in the US Army. His time with the Aircraft Division began in 1998, working his way up the ranks at a variety of bases around the state, eventually landing his current assignment in 2010. He is responsible for the day-to-day operations, including service and maintenance of the aircraft fleet.

Under a somewhat unique state legislative requirement, all aircraft are maintained and repaired by the Texas Department of Transportation at the main base in Austin. With 24 aircraft distributed in 14 bases across the state, that can present its own challenges. "If it's an AOG situation away from Austin, we will use one of our Cessnas and haul a mechanic out to them. We do it all the time when needed," Ochsner explains. When necessary, they will also contract out some work, which is allowed in the state mandate.

While the majority of their work is done internally, Ochsner appreciates the proximity to the Airbus headquarters in Grand Prairie and the relationship they maintain. "If we need a tech rep, they'll send one down the same day," he declares. And while his administrative duties often keep him busy in the office, he never refuses to honor an opportunity to spend time in the air with his team. "This is like family," Ochsner says. "Yesterday I was in the 145. I'm getting ready to go fly an AStar. This weekend I may go up in the Pilatus. You can't beat the variety of missions we get to conduct. It's fun; it's a great job."

Training

There are 4 Cessna 206s used for training, short transports and occasional surveillance.

With more than 4000 sworn troopers in the DPS and only 74 assignments in the Aircraft Division, competition can be tough. After 2 years out of the academy, with the rank of Trooper I, applications can be made to the unit as a TFO. However, Trooper II status – reached after 4 years of service – along with a private pilot license is required for testing for a pilot position. The 4 years can be waived if the applicant has spent at least 2 years as a TFO. All pilots eventually obtain their commercial and instrument ratings, and most go on to get their ATP rating.

Once they make it to the division, they will interact with Major Tony Ashley. He is in charge of initial and recurrent training as well as certifications across the state for the DPS. Growing up a "military brat," Ashley stayed with familiar surroundings and joined the Army in 1986, where he initially worked as a Huey crew chief. He soon became a warrant officer and flew Bell AH1 Cobras, eventually becoming an instructor.

When the Army stopped flying the Cobras in 1994, Ashley left and 2 years later joined the DPS. He served 11 years in the highway patrol until the Aviation Division saw expansion in 2007 and he jumped on board. With his extensive experience, he was asked to take over the Training Safety position. Ashley keeps quite busy with the expansion the division has seen in recent years. Even while coordinating the training programs, he still works as a line pilot. "Our training is based on where the need is, so I travel quite a bit. I'll be at one base doing initial training or hour-building and the next week I'll be across the state giving some annual check-rides," he explains.

Ashley agrees that being close to Airbus helps. "We terminate all of our training of autorotations with power to a hover. But our pilots get an annual factory ride at Airbus with an hour of full-down autos with Airbus instructors and an hour and a half in the full-motion simulator with one of my guys," he adds.

Under Ashley's oversight are 10 helicopter CFIs, some of whom are CFII, and 8 fixed-wing CFIs, most of whom are CFIIs. While this recurrent training is for pilots, Ashley is pushing to have TFOs go through similar training. "The types of real-life scenarios we are exposed to are constantly morphing, either from actual applications or case-law. I want to see our guys go through simulated training as a crew and that is something that we are making happen."

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