THP Aviation Training

The Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Aviation Unit recently trained for emergency rescue missions in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park with rangers from the National Park Service and the Tennessee State Parks, and first responders from across east Tennessee. The training exercises, which took place in the Cades Cove area of the park, focused on air rescue and evacuation practices. The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) is the only state agency that operates helicopters in its aviation section.
According to Captain Bob Eckerman, who oversees THP’s Special Operations Section, the recent training session was specifically focused on rescue of people trapped in mountainous terrain.
This type of training is standard for the Aviation Unit, which has been conducting rescue missions for years. In late 2012, the National Park Service requested the THP’s assistance to rescue a missing hiker in the Smoky Mountains who had been stranded for several days in waist-deep snow. The successful rescue took approximately 45 minutes and included a 17-mile flight to the top of the mountain where the hiker was located.
The Nashville based Bell Huey is the only aircraft on the THP’s fleet with the cargo capacity to be equipped with a motorized hoist used for lowering troopers and retrieving victims; it has also been used for relief efforts, including delivering supplies during natural disasters.
In addition to the Bell Huey, the THP operates four Bell Jet Ranger 206 helicopters. There is at least one helicopter and pilot based in each of the state’s grand divisions, including Jackson, Nashville, and Fall Branch. Each helicopter in the fleet is equipped with LoJack Police Tracking Computers that track signals emitted from stolen vehicles.
The Jet Ranger helicopters also operate forward looking infrared cameras (FLIR). This equipment utilizes heat signatures on the ground to locate individuals. The Aviation Unit is routinely called upon to assist local law enforcement in finding suspects attempting to avoid apprehension and missing persons. In these situations, the pilots provide air support as they maintain radio communication with dispatchers and troopers on the ground during vehicle and foot pursuits.
The THP Aviation Unit is also part of the Governor’s Marijuana Eradication Task Force. The pilots fly the Jet Ranger helicopters in search of illegal marijuana crops in remote locations across Tennessee. The pilots then guide law enforcement on the ground to the locations to take enforcement action. The THP uses the Bell Huey helicopter during Task Force operations when it is necessary to lower troopers into areas where marijuana crops are found.
So the next time you see a chopper overhead, you never know–it could be the Highway Patrol, and you never know what mission they might be on.

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