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Protecting Utah

DPS Aero Bureau Recognized with Governor’s Award for Excellence

Friday May 17, 2019
Members of the DPS Aero Bureau stand on stage as they receive the Governor's Award for Excellence.
From left to right: Lt. Governor Spencer Cox, Colonel Rapich, TFO Trooper Landon Middaugh, TFO Sgt. Brent Shelby, TFO Trooper Kris Cope, Pilot Brett Hutchings, TFO Alan Jensen, Chief Pilot Luke Bowman, Aircraft Mechanic Steve Matheson, Pilot Kent Harrison, Pilot Steve Rugg, Aircraft Mechanic Charlie Williams, TFO Sgt. Kyle Curtis, Governor Herbert.

On Wednesday, May 15th, the DPS Aero Bureau was recognized by Governor Gary R. Herbert with a Governor’s Award for Excellence for Outstanding Public Service.

When he notified the Aero Bureau team members that they would be receiving the award, Colonel Rapich noted, “It is my honor to have the opportunity to inform you, and be the first to congratulate you, on your nomination and selection to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence (GAFE) for your incredible service and accomplishments in fulfilling the critical mission of the DPS Aero Bureau, through out the State of Utah. Over the past year(s) your contribution, dedication and sacrifice in meeting the demands of the critical and life saving function within our public safety community has distinguished yourself and the Bureau far above that of normal public service. Your actions have repeatedly saved lives and resources across the state.”

At the awards ceremony, the nomination for the Aero Bureau was read before members of the team came to the stage for the award presentation.

Governor Herbert shakes Chief Pilot Luke Bowman's hand.
Governor Herbert shakes TFO Sgt. Shelby's hand.
Governor Herbert shakes Colonel Rapich's hand.
Governor Herbert presents the award for excellence to Aero Bureau Chief Pilot Luke Bowman

The Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS) Aero Bureau is a fully operational law enforcement and search and rescue aviation unit, which is staffed and operated from within the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP). The aircraft assets of the Aero Bureau consist of two A-Star Helicopters and one shared Cessna Airplane. Personnel assigned to the Aero Bureau include: four pilots, two full-time and two part-time; two full-time aircraft mechanics; and eight part-time Tactical Flight Officers (TFO) who also have full-time assignments in the UHP. Each of those assigned to the DPS Aero Bureau have extensive training, certifications and specialized skill sets and functions which are critical to the enormous mission throughout the state of Utah. 

The DPS helicopter landed on red rock during a rescue procedure.

In 2015, following multiple incidents involving damage to aircraft and close calls to safety of personnel, the team members within the Aero Bureau began to look at options to be better prepared to meet the challenges of their highly hazardous operational environment. This included an evaluation aircraft, equipment, personnel and training. This evaluation specifically identified the need for: newer aircraft with higher power margins and updated flight, surveillance, and rescue equipment; stronger requirements in training and selection of Pilots and TFOs; and greater options for close to ground operations. The outcome of this effort was the purchase of a new A-star B3 helicopter with power margins adequate to be fully functional at any location within the state. The B3 was equipped with a hoisting equipment which allowed for the deployment and extraction of personnel in nearly any terrain or location, without the hazard of close to ground operation. A capability never before available in the state outside of military aircraft. Through this evaluation a contractor was identified to provide advanced aviation rescue and safety systems training to all Aero Bureau flight crew personnel, which exponentially increased the knowledge, skills and capabilities of the flight crews. And finally, extensive basic and ongoing training and certification requirements were initiated through a formal Safety Systems Management program. The efforts have resulted in a public safety air asset capable of operating with greater capabilities and a higher level of safety to all involved than ever before available. 

The DPS helicopter performs a hoist rescue operation practice.

In the years immediately following the implementation of the above listed changes and improvements the operational success of the DPS Aero Bureau has increased significantly above proceeding years. In 2018 DPS Aero Bureau Operations included: 

  • Over 740 total flight hours supporting all aspects of public safety operations in the state, to include: Search and Rescue, Law Enforcement, Communications, Wildlife, and Avalanche Operations.
  • 113 Search and Rescue Missions, with 122 people rescued, involving local and federal search and rescue teams. 
  • 32 flight operations which involved the use of hoisting operations, during search and rescue efforts across the state, in hazardous and high-risk locations, reducing the risk to ground personnel involved in the operations. 
  • 71 Law Enforcement missions supporting agencies throughout the state, resulting 20 criminal apprehensions in just the last quarter of 2018.
  • Monthly Flight and Rescue Operations Training Totaling 49 flight hours, and involving all Aero Bureau Personnel.
The DPS helicopter with a beautiful cloud formation in the background.

It is important to acknowledge the DPS Aero Bureau operates on an extremely minimal budget, consisting of a $750K dollar ongoing appropriation. They are constantly finding new ways to optimize personnel, equipment, and other resources. All of the assigned TFOs have full time positions and responsibilities within the UHP. This requires that nearly all operational missions be done in addition to their normal work week. It is not uncommon for a flight crew to deploy on a search and rescue mission at the beginning of a weekend, and continue to new missions, not returning until the end of the weekend. To say the DPS Aero Bureau has been effective in finding Hidden Capacity would be a horrible understatement. They continue to find ways to improve operations and safety, and the result of their efforts can be directly quantified in number of lives saved. 122 in 2018. 

The DPS helicopter performs a hoist rescue drill.

It is with the greatest respect and appreciation that we nominate the Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau to receive the Governor’s Award for Excellence. 

On behalf of the multiple members of DPS’ Aero Bureau, we nominate the following men to represent DPS:

Chief Pilot Lucas Bowman                Pilot Brett Hutchings 

Pilot Kent Harrison                           Pilot Steve Rugg 

TFO Wyatt Webber                           TFO Rob Wilkinson 

TFO Landon Middaugh                    TFO Justin Hansen 

TFO Kyle Curtis                                 TFO BJ Shelby 

TFO Chris Cope                                 TFO AJ Jensen 

Mechanic Steve Matheson               Mechanic Charlie Williams

The Governor’s Award for Excellence program provides an opportunity for each department to recognize state employees who have demonstrated a commitment to excellence in any of the following areas:

Watch this video for more information about the DPS Aero Bureau.

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