San Jose Police Seek $4.7 Million to Replace Aging Helicopter

San Jose’s police helicopter holds the dubious distinction of being the oldest of its kind in the nation. The 16-year-old Air2 EC-120B, which San Jose Inside accompanied officers in during a high-speed chase, is a decade past its useful lifespan, according to police Chief Eddie Garcia, who’s looking to buy a $4.7 million replacement.

The San Jose Police Department already has $3.13 million set aside—most of it from asset forfeiture, that is, property seized during criminal investigations. Garcia’s proposal, which comes before the City Council on Tuesday, asks the Budget Office to figure out how to come up with the remaining $1.59 million.

Since the city bought its Air2, the helicopter has undergone several engine overhauls to keep it operational. By SJPD’s estimate, its “eye in the sky” has only 500 flight hours or about a month to go before it needs yet another mechanical overhaul.

“The funding for the engine overhaul has been previously set aside in asset forfeiture funds,” Garcia wrote in a memo to the council, “however, as the helicopter continues to age the potential for unanticipated grounding due to maintenance issues increases dramatically. Due to the age of the helicopter and the increased costs associated with maintenance, it is recommended that Air2 be replaced.”

With the Air2’s tuckering out, SJPD will cut its flight schedule to make it last as long as possible, or until the city buys a successor. If needed, San Jose can borrow helicopters from the California Highway Patrol or the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. But helicopters from other agencies aren’t always available when needed.

One of the replacement options SJPD is looking at is one of the most common single-engine helicopters in U.S. law enforcement, Garcia said.

The Airbus HI25 comes with upgraded power and lift capacity and longer flight times. It’s also able to provide more power with less fuel. While the current helicopter can carry only one passenger (or two, if absolutely necessary), the HI25 handles up to four in addition to the pilot and co-pilot.

In his memo, Garcia also suggested creating a reserve fund for future aircraft, which could start with the $100,000 in potential proceeds from the Air2’s sale.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I don’t know if SJPD has sworn off of notar systems since the last one crashed, but casually browsing reddit and nextdoor, I see a ton of complaints about “Helicopter flying overhead” It’s pretty obvious to me that a lot of residents are unhappy about the tail rotor noise.

    Chief Garcia, I hope you will read this and take noise into consideration. Also, nothing wrong with using drones (although there was kind of a freak out in the comments section here last time drones were brought up) Maybe you can use “Nearly noiseless” and “lower operational costs” if you want to revisit using drones in the SJPD. General Atomics is now offering predator drones and training to the general public.

    • I agree noise is an issue. I agree with Anna, I will live with the noise if I get safety back. I also agree with Military drone usage…However, I don’t believe we are anywhere close to seeing a law enforcement military type drone over US cities. We can’t even get a military truck incorporated into the PD fleet (MRAP). I predict 10 years before we see something like that (at least five years to vet it with public meetings). My opinion of course.

      Lastly, amateur drones don’t have the battery life (as of right now) to stay up for a significant amount of time or to carry the payload required (FLIR cameras, spot lights)

      Oh I also agree with killing tiny homes to support air support.

      On a side note. I think they are choosing a new IPA. People better speak up so we don’t get another Cordell. Again my opinion.

      • >Lastly, amateur drones don’t have the battery life (as of right now) to stay up for a significant amount of time or to carry the payload required (FLIR cameras, spot lights)

        You can bolt FLIR on anything now.

        Could probably bolt an LED spotlight and extra batteries on a second UAV if you needed the spot.

        A quadcopter suffers from all the issues you mentioned, but a fixed wing drone (think plane) can actually recharge itself once it’s in a airstream. I’ve actually done this with a Parkzone Stryker on a brushed motor with Nicad batteries hovering over SF’s Big Green Field. We have a fairly reliable stream that flows from North to South. Fixed wing has all the carrying capacity you need.

        Not to mention they’re small enough to take off/land from a substation rooftop.

        Aerovironment makes the best, battle test surveillance drones that are small enough to not require a runway, fixed wing, just awesomeness. 20km is the top range of it’s best model (Puma) with a 3+ hour flight time. Tested in Afghanistan/Iraq.

        As far as feeling safe.. I’d honestly feel safer with drones up there for the majority of AIR2 missions, for fear of AIR2 falling out of the sky. I don’t want it to happen, but it has happened here and in other places, a fact I cannot ignore. I’d rather not put the public or officers at risk if there is a cheaper, equally effective options available.

        Then again, I’m just john Q public. I don’t know all the requirements, but has any SJPD aircraft ever been used for more than a spotlight and a camera?

        • I am a creature of the technology age, but I am amazed at the rapid improvement in drone technology over the last few years.

          I’m not against the SJPD having a manned helicopter, but I suspect that ninety percent of the missions for the SJPD copter could be done faster, better, and cheaper with drones.

          Likely, there would actually be synergy between copters and drones. The demonstrated capability of drones to track and follow a target should make burglars and prowlers think long and hard.

          Cops don’t need to chase perps through back yards anymore. Just put your mouse pointer over the perp on your remote video display and click on “Drone – Follow”.

          The flip side is that law enforcement has to develop a deep and up to date understanding of drone capabilities because the bad guys are CERTAINLY going to be using them.

  2. I would endure the noise compared to my safety any day. The helicopter is needed in a city as large as San Jose with a department that is understaffed.

  3. Why not enter into a MOU with SCC so that there will be at least two to patrol all of the County? Would double potential force response, offers a backup, and keeps flight crews better trained since they would be busier, safer, and more effective (for same reason that successful transplants correlate with hospitals that perform many). Garcia could save money by shutting down the unused bomb squad and have the Sheriff handle such incidents that happen less often than a blue moon.

    RMC raises an interesting point. Military type drones aren’t capable of rescue, but they might be feasible for the 99.99% of what SJPD’s helicopter actually does. Operating in a crowded airspace like ours? Not sure, but worthy of consideration in the business case analysis.

    Am wondering if DOJ grants will fund any acquisition given SJ’s flip-flopping ‘yes we are’ / ‘no we aren’t’ sanctuary city status.

  4. Millions to chase one car? Why not use the road Spikes. More Cops on the Streets. Why was all the money spent on Cameras at every light in San Jose? we are a bunch of Fools. Drain the Swamp San Jose included.

  5. There should be no problem coming up with the funds to pay for a new chopper, take it out of the tiny house fiasco.
    Please buy a few drones while you’re at it, I don’t want and old dead copter crashing into my house. Drones seem to be everywhere in the hands of amiture flyers, maybe you could bust some of them. While you’re at it you can replace that racist chief and commi mayor.

  6. The comment from Anna Medina beautifully highlights the fact that our fair city is ignoring the very real, very deep and very wide catalog of drone options. The money spent would probably net us at least a couple or three machines along with the training – and possibly personnel – needed to staff/man/train/certify and zigzag the little buggers all around and all over the area of operations. Change is sometimes painful and our focus and goals should be pointing to the future. The future of most manned tactical –
    even a few strategic – flight ops doesn’t include a human in the sky.

  7. I haven’t bought a helicopter recently, but $4.7 million seems to be a lot of money for garden variety small business passenger chopper. It’s not like the SJPD is carrying howitzers into combat or seal teams into Osama bin Laden’s compound.

    Plus, I suspect that there are likely surplus military choppers resting quietly in the desert that the military would be happy to donate to a worthy cause.

    The federal government has been quite eager to offload surplus military gear onto local law enforcement: armored assault vehicles, humvees, weapons, etc. etc.

    Surplus military helicopters might actually be useful.

  8. The City of San Jose lacks the will to put together a proper Air Unit. To be effective and reliable, an Air Unit needs to have a helicopter in the air 24 hours a day. For that, at least 3 helicopters are needed. Otherwise, it is literally never there when you need it. It’s either on the ground warming up or cooling off, or refueling, or down for maintenance. If SJPD has a helicopter in the air for more than 10 hours a week, it’s practically a miracle.

    San Jose lacks the political will to set aside the money to purchase equipment and provide the ongoing expenses to sustain a proper Air Unit. Unless the helicopter is to be used to ferry homeless illegal aliens to affordable housing in sanctuary areas, safely away from the reach of ICE, the City will never fund it properly. The City should just save the money and disband the Air Unit altogether. It’s a great idea, every modern police department should have one, but like most things, our City fathers are just providing an illusion to a gullible public.

    As well, a police helicopter only needs a pilot and a co-pilot. Why would it need to carry passengers, other than for photo-ops and joy-rides for local politicians and action-packed footage during the few minutes a week that the helicopter is actually in the air. Don’t believe me? Go pull the flight logs and see how much time the current helicopter actually spends in the air.

    • >Why would it need to carry passengers, other than for photo-ops and joy-rides for local politicians and action-packed footage during the few minutes a week that the helicopter is actually in the air.

      Glad you mentioned this as I was thinking “Aldon Smith” and helicopter rides from the SCC sheriff.

    • I think San Jose’s City government lacks the will to do is enforce the laws, they seem to be willing to spend every last taxpayer buck on snake oil cures for whatever mality comes down the pike.

  9. Helicopters don’t do crap except make noise. Put officers on patrol on the ground if you want to put a dent in San Jose’s crime.

  10. There was an afternoon-long situation in Willow Glen a few weeks ago with an armed man holed up in somebody’s garage as I understood it. Dozens of police cars. Seemed pretty intense. The helicopter was constantly circling overhead.
    It seems like that constant racket would add stress to the whole scene- everybody having to shout to be heard, impeding communication, increasing the chance of misunderstanding and maybe freaking the perp out too. Seems like all things being equal, if a quiet drone could provide the same benefits as the helicopter then it might be preferable in some circumstances.

    • Let’s go with the hostage stand-off situation for a minute. The helicopter is nearly worthless.

      What is needed is a spotter and a good man with a scoped rifle. If the suspect gives up; Problem solved; no shooting.
      If the suspect doesn’t give up; one well placed round from a scoped rifle (or even a good handgun); “Thwack”; Problem solved.

      Can a helicopter talk someone out of a house or persuade them to put their gun down and give up? Short answer; “No”. Can (or would) a co-pilot fire a shot out of the helicopter window and have it actually hits its target. Short answer; “No!”

      Here’s something more common and mundane. Suppose some poor cop is rolling around on the ground, fighting for his life, and trying to avoid getting his ass kicked by some 200 pound, prison buffed, parolee who is high on methamphetamine. What’s the helicopter going to do? Land in a yard or on someone’s roof and have the co-pilot jump out and join the fight and pull the parolee off the officer? Spray pepper spray out the window of the helicopter.? Short answer: “No!”

      Even with the helicopter following overhead, SJPD may call off a vehicle pursuit anyway. Please don’t tell me this doesn’t happen because I know for a fact it does. If SJPD is not going to fund a proper Air Unit, and they won’t, disband it and hire more street cops.

  11. > The 16-year-old Air2 EC-120B, which San Jose Inside accompanied officers in during a high-speed chase, is a decade past its useful lifespan, according to police Chief Eddie Garcia,

    Chief Garcia, who doesn’t seem to know much about controlling violent mobs intent on breaking up political rallies, also doesn’t seem to know much about aircraft service life:

    “(B-52’s were first put into service in 1955.)

    But with a replacement bomber still on the drawing board, the B-52 could see service well into the 2040s. At that point, some of the older airframes could be approaching 90 years of age — likely to be the oldest aircraft in the history of the Air Force.”

  12. Dear San Jose Police, After the pretend “cutting back” on your budget, you received free “overstock” from the US military to repress and control your citizens. Why not just ask the US Military to replace your outdated helicopter? After all those billions of taxpayer dollars wasted on “obsolete” military aircraft — I am 100% confident they will provide y’all with two maybe three new units. Do not despair. Your salaries will be paid and your requests for updated weaponry will not be denied. Rest assured that your power will not be left hanging.

  13. Great Idea Crow.
    I can’t think of any reason for Liccardo and Garcia not to use some Hellfire missiles on the next Trump Rally survivors.
    Maybe some “Dam Busters” next time the creek overflows. We could use trucks and tents to move and hide the undocumented Democrats.

  14. How come no one is asking why they are buying a ice cream truck for $200k? At least the helicopter is of use. Ice cream truck has no whyof protecting our citizens. Just a dumb pr tool.

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