By Ron Corbin
Have you ever heard something that is so far-fetched, so unbelievable, that it makes you think, “Yeah sure, I’ll believe it when I see it.” Or when other common expressions of skepticism pop into your head like, “When Hell freezes over,” and, “No way … You are joking, right?”
Police officers are some of the biggest practical jokesters of any profession. Likely, their penchant for “punking,” or pulling pranks and being able to laugh, is a psychological means of coping with the negative things they encounter in their jobs on a daily basis. Whatever the case may be, following is a compilation of humorous accounts about air cops; police officers who fly helicopter patrol over their jurisdictions.
As a former helicopter pilot/instructor with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Air Support Division, I feel comfortable now in sharing some of these anecdotes. I’m guessing the statute of limitations for “Wasting Taxpayers Money” has passed. However, just in case I’m wrong, the names of participants will be either fictionalized or purposely omitted.
Also, rather than calling these stories “accounts,” possibly the term “legends” would be more applicable since some of them cannot be verified as actually happening. So, take a literary ride-along with some of the best police pilots in the world.
Tag … You’re It
Whenever there is a “slow night” for street patrol officers, the correlating effect for air support pilots and observers is usually the same. Also, because California law requires bars to close at 2:00 a.m., it can get very dreary for the few hours before the freeways become “alive” with morning commuters. During this dull time, it’s not whereas a helicopter can just stop flying and wait for something to happen like street cops can do in a black-and-white patrol vehicle.
Most police helicopter pilots fashion themselves as dashing fighter pilots (i.e., flamboyant jet-jockeys in flight suits that attract the opposite sex). Rather than just boring “lazy circles” in the sky with nothing exciting to respond to on the ground, a form of non-lethal aerial combat … “dog fighting” … became a favorite pastime of LA’s pilots assigned to morning watch.
The helicopter from the San Fernando Valley would sneak over the Hollywood hills and come up behind the other aircraft assigned to patrol the Greater LA Basin and metropolitan area. The Valley helicopter would get behind and above the LA ‘copter. Then a flip of the landing light switch by the pilot would illuminate the cockpit of the aircraft in front. The pilot behind would then key the radio and say, “Tag, you’re it”!
Quickly then, the pilot of the trailing Valley aircraft would turn-off the aircraft’s red-green navigation lights and the rotating beacon to become completely blacked-out. Diving and turning, zooming between and hiding behind high-rise skyscrapers in downtown LA, the Valley pilot attempted to avoid being seen by the crew of the LA ‘copter. If and when found, the LA aircraft would then try to maneuver behind the fleeing aircraft and get a “bead” on it. Once in “attack position,” a flip of the landing light switch, and “Tag, you’re it” once again came over the air-to-air radio frequency. Then the roles of both aircraft would reverse, and the chase was on again.
Sure, there was some minor FAA violations with the lights, but the “hard deck” never went below 500 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). No buildings, vehicles, or people were ever in danger. However, it didn’t take long for the Morning Watch sergeant back at the heliport in Glendale monitoring the coded radio comm to figure out that Air 70 and Air 80 were up to some shenanigans. Who knows, but maybe this was the impetus for the aerial sequence from the movie that came out a few years later, “Blue Thunder”, starring Roy Scheider.
What can I say … the original Maverick and Iceman of “Top Gun.”
According to Wikipedia, “When pigs fly” is an adynaton, a way of saying that something will never happen. The phrase is often used for humorous effect, to scoff at over-ambition. There are numerous variations on the theme; when an individual with a reputation for failure finally succeeds, onlookers may sarcastically claim to see a flying pig. (‘Hey look! A flying pig!’) Other variations on the phrase include “And pigs will fly,” this one in retort to an outlandish statement.”
These are just a few of the stories that have been circulated around LAPD’s Air Support Division for over a half-century. Through personal first-hand knowledge, some are partially true, some are fiction, most are hard to believe, but all are good for a laugh. These “pig tales” [sic] have become folklore taken from the actions or imaginations of those who carry a gun on their hip, and wear a badge and silver wings on their chest.
Bio of Ron Corbin, PhD
• U.S Army (1965-1969)
• CW2 Helicopter Pilot/Instructor Pilot
• 2 Tours in Vietnam as Combat Pilot
Law Enforcement & Private Security
• Las Vegas Metropolitan PD – Academy Training Manager (ret’d)
• LAPD – Policeman & Air Support Command Pilot/CFI Command Pilot/CFI (ret’d)
• Body Guard for Prince of Qatar (1984 LA Summer Olympics)
• Director of Security; Manufacturing Company
• AA (physical education)
• BA (child development)
• MS (elementary education)
• PhD (security administration)
Lecturer/Consultant & Trainer
• Personal Safety & Security
• Instructor Development; Master Instructor for Nevada P.O.S.T.
• Crime Free Multi-Housing
• CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design)
• Counterterrorism Security Procedures (DOE Nuclear Facilities)
After military service, Ron joined LAPD in 1971 with the ambition of becoming one of their helicopter pilots. He achieved this goal in 1974, working his way up from Command Pilot status to an Instructor Pilot. In 1976, he was involved in a training crash that killed his student pilot and left Ron with 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 70% of his body.
He was given a disability pension in 1977. During many months and years of hospitalization, post incident surgeries and physical rehabilitation, he finished his education earning a BA, MS, and PhD. He rebuilt his life around new careers, including being a school teacher and principal. However, law enforcement and security was still his primary love. Unable to do police work, he pursued various jobs in private security and training in personal safety, including being a body guard, director of security, consultant and trainer for security forces at DOE nuclear facilities.
He moved to Las Vegas in 1993 and joined LVMPD. On behalf of the Department, he served as a CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) expert consultant to various public and private entities in Las Vegas. He retired in 2011 after several years as the Police Academy Training Manager.
Ron has won sixteen awards for his writing skills from the Public Safety Writers Association. He has been married to his HS sweetheart for over 52 years, and has three children and seven grandchildren.