Aviation Division has new pilot

Published 4:50 pm Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Deputy Dave Williams, B&G Flying Service instructor Kenneth Gilliland and Sheriff Kevin Davis stand in front of the Cessna 172 aircraft and the Hughes 500 helicopter

Humility, determination and a desire to soar are some of many characteristics behind Chilton County deputy Dave Williams propelling him to gain certification by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the Aviation Division of the Chilton County Sheriff’s Department.

“Flying has always been a passion of mine,” Williams said. “Having the opportunity to learn how to fly and provide a better service to this community is the ultimate goal of the aviation division.”

On Oct. 10 Williams completed the certification requirements established by the FAA for the issuance of his private pilot certificate. This certificate allows Williams to operate the Department’s fixed-wing, single-engine Cessna 172 aircraft on missions in support of activities of the Chilton County Sheriff’s department. Sheriff Kevin Davis said the airplane along with a Hughes 500 helicopter were acquired from a surplus program that is part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 1997 authorizing the Department of Defense to transfer any excess military property to state and local law enforcement agencies.

Davis said the whole process is based upon a request and approval dependent on how the property will be utilized.

“They want to make sure that the property being given away will be used,” Davis said. “The aircraft were free with the surplus program and did not cost the county any money.”

Davis said both the helicopter and airplane came from the Dale County Sheriff’s department that was downsizing some of their equipment.

“Since it came from a sheriff’s department, we didn’t even have to repaint the exterior,” Davis said. “It all worked out really well. It was hard to come by but we had done the right preparation work to make it happen.”

Davis said he uses the surplus program, commonly referred to as the 1033 Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), frequently and has saved the county $2.3 million dollars from the program.

“I think a lot of people think that having the airplane and helicopter is costing the county more money,” Davis said. “You can do more with less resources.”

Davis said the method behind acquiring equipment from the surplus involves waking up every Saturday morning at 2:30 a.m. and logging onto a website that displays various equipment such as: body armor, night vision equipment, first aid supplies, weapons, surveillance equipment, Kevlar helmets, gas masks and filters and many other items.

Davis programs his alarm to go off every Saturday at 2:20 a.m. as he spends more than two hours pouring over equipment and supplies for the sheriff’s department.

“It is based on a first come first serve basis so if you are not around at the exact moment, you miss it,” Davis said. “We have gotten some really beneficial things for our department including 150 pairs of boots that I was able to give out.”

Both Davis and Williams acknowledge having the helicopter and airplane they have had since July is a tremendous benefit for the sheriff’s department.

“It is a force multiplier,” Williams said. “We can cover the span of Chilton County from the air in 45 minutes to 1 hour whereas it takes a deputy in a patrol car at least half a day to drive around.”

Williams completed his pilot certification requirements that included training in basic flight maneuvers, cross-country and night flight as well as maneuvering the aircraft by reference to flight instruments. The process also required the completion of a written knowledge test and a practical test administered by an FAA pilot examiner. Williams will now complete the training requirements to operate the helicopter under the instruction of Kenneth Gilliland of B&G Flying Service in Clanton.

Gilliland operates and maintains the division’s helicopter as a Reserve Deputy of the Sheriff’s office as well as provides training for both Williams and Davis.

Davis operated the 172 aircraft in a solo flight on Oct. 15 with three unassisted takeoffs and landings at the Chilton County Airport. He will now begin the advanced phase of training for the Private Pilot certificate receiving instruction in cross-country, night and other specialized flight operations.

Although Williams and Davis are still learning the various flight techniques that will make them equipped to be able to operate both the helicopter and airplane, both hope to make the aviation division an asset to Chilton County.

“We are able to have this tremendous opportunity to be able to do this because of the Airport Authority and Gilliland as well as numerous other people throughout this area,” Davis said. “We could not be more thankful for the opportunity.”

Williams added, “I am proud to have this unit.” “Not many have the aviation unit and I believe it is a great tool to have. If it wasn’t for the support from the airport authority, other agencies and citizens keeping us going we would not be able to have this division.”

In recent weeks, the Chilton County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Division has conducted numerous missions both locally and in support of law enforcement in neighboring counties. Some of the missions have included trying to locate a missing person, helping to locate escapees, stolen property, and several other crimes.