Street Stories When Pigs Fly

When Pigs Fly: The View From Above

By Ron Corbin

When Pigs Fly

Flying for Air Support Division (ASD) is probably one of the premier job assignments for LAPD… other than for obvious reasons working “beach patrol” in Venice Division. It’s one of those cases where for a position to become available someone either has to die or retire. There could be a lot of reasons for this choice assignment, including good pay (Beach Patrol officers would probably work for free or even pay the Department for their assignment.). But most officers seeking to be a pilot or observer did it for the thrill and desire to fly. In any case, I’ll mention a few perks of the job.

If we had the time, slowly orbiting the perimeter of Dodger Stadium or the LA Coliseum on game nights was a frequent activity to check the score, and see if the “Boys in Blue” or Trojans of USC were winning. After a couple of orbits, we would have to depart the area to avoid a disgruntled fan’s complaint who thought we shouldn’t get to watch the game for free.

One of my favorite times to fly each year was PM Watch (swing shift) on the 4th of July. About a half-hour after the sun dipped below the Pacific’s horizon, I would climb up to about 1,000 feet above the ground, and slowly cruise over the LA Basin where I could also view the San Fernando Valley. As darkness appeared, a magnificent aerial display of fireworks began popping-up everywhere; at city and county parks, from hundreds of family backyards, Marina del Rey, the Rose Bowl, LA Coliseum, Dodger and Anaheim Stadiums. It was a memorable sight.

Naturally, it never seemed to fail that before the patriotic display ended, my observer and I would get a call of a palm tree fire. The typical cause was that juveniles had shot a bottle rocket into the dry fronds (usually on purpose), just to see how big a “torch” they could create. Their mischief’s glee was not only dangerous from embers landing on house roofs, but it also sent hundreds of rats scurrying down the palm tree from nests that were formed in the upper branches. People would scream and run as these rodents scampered into surrounding gutter drains and across neighborhood lawns.

Responding at 500 feet above the ground, which was the normal patrol orbit, someone would often shoot a bottle rocket at our helicopter. Being a federal crime (shooting at aircraft), this gave us probable cause to call for ground units to assist and arrest the “idiot” … er, I mean … suspect. All the arrestee’s fireworks were taken as evidence. Of course, the patrol officers were glad to respond, as many of the confiscated fireworks went home with them after end of watch for their own enjoyment.

In the movie “Blue Thunder,” starring Roy Scheider, it begins with him and his observer hovering outside a high-rise window … “observing”. Okay, okay…if you want to nitpick, they were peeping. I don’t know of any ASD crews who actually did this, but being the friendly “Mr. Policeman,” we would occasionally fly or hover beside a downtown skyscraper and wave to the office workers.

For responding to business burglaries and other calls for service in a commercial district, owners and/or occupants were encouraged to paint the address number of their building in large contrasting numerals on the rooftops. Even though the address code in LA requires “even numbers on the south and east sides and odd numbers on north and west sides of streets,” the helicopter observer could get to the correct street and block number of a call for service but finding the exact mid-block address was nearly impossible. Therefore, painting address numbers on rooftops assisted in this effort and considerably reduced response time.

Not many homeowners practiced this address ID technique. However, frequently aircrews would spot a different type of identifying number; a telephone number painted on the roof of a private residence. I probably don’t have to explain what this meant, other than there must have been some lonely females and cop groupies in “La La Land.” Usually, these houses also had a swimming pool, which meant nude sunbathers. Enough said. What can I say…it’s just a perk of the job.

One of the most famous private residences that aircrews would be sure to give extra aerial patrol was Hugh Heffner’s Playboy Mansion. A few orbits on each shift was to ensure that all was well and that his “guests” around the pool were safe and secure. Just because we were airborne cops didn’t mean that we couldn’t still hold to the Department motto…To Protect and To Serve, right? Besides, why should all those Beach Patrol officers working in Venice Beach have all the fun?

Police Helicopter Pilot … It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.

The Call Box

The Call Box: Welcome to the 19th Century, part 3




By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

Ward transferred to a staff job and Hal went to the day watch. Years later he would become one of the first helicopter pilots when “air support division” was formed. [see The Call Box August 16th for more on Ward Fitzgerald and Hal Brasher].  


3A15 was now “my” car [see The Call Box August 24th for more on 3A15].  George Flanders soon transferred to motors, and Frank (Isbell) and I worked with a succession of newbies. When we were together though, we were the perfect partners. Frank was a year or two older and from Corpus Christi, Texas, a former Marine (as was I) and an all-around good guy. He had a good sense of humor and was smart as a whip (he made captain before retiring). We developed an easy relationship when on the street.


Eye contact with each other was important because a certain facial expression conveyed a message. We had code words to pass information without alerting the person or persons we were talking to. Just a look conveyed a message. He was a great street cop and a great partner.


The police unit or patrol car

All cars in our division were two- or three-year-old four door Fords, Chevys or Plymouths. All were standard transmission. They actually had one unit with automatic transmission. The officers assigned had to do a report every week to see if it was suitable for police work. Honest.


At age two or three they had been on the street 24 hours a day unless pulled for service. And they were tired. They were the most inexpensive cars the city could buy. They also did not have seat belts. I think oversized springs was the only concession to street work.


The emergency lights were two round non-flashers mounted on the roof with a siren between them. Both were activated by pulling two buttons on the dash then operating the siren with the horn ring. The car was so under powered that as the pitch of the siren went up the car slowed down.


Again, honest.



Most of the cars had a string tied to the dash buttons running to the shift lever so they could be activated by pulling on the strings. Hi-tech. The “hot sheet” which was the list of stolen vehicles, was displayed by bending a paper clip and hanging it from the dash, where it swung freely.


Frank used to envision something like a TV screen in the cars that would give us up to date information. Yeah, right!!


This was when computers were in their infancy. After we left patrol we worked together several more times but that is for future stories.


As to the mystery building glued to the east end of the station, I never could find anyone to explain it. It was made of faux logs, was approximately 20’ by 20’, painted a bilious yellow, and it had once been a hamburger stand. It now served as the office for the Vice Squad.


More on that later…