Armed Police Helicopters-Illegal?

A quick, but odd, question…Is it illegal for police helicopters to be armed? The only reference on this subject I can recall is the movie “Blue Thunder,” where Roy Schneider notes that normally, police helos weren’t allowed to be armed. Needless to say, I’d prefer for a more reliable source of information than the aforementioned. Can anyone help?

Well, thanks for your patience,

Blue Thunder, that was a classic. Well, back when I watched Airwolf religiously as a kid.

Firing from an helio would be rather indiscriminant I would think. The police do not fire / are not supposed to fire like that. Think of the field day the news would have if an “Air Wolf” / “Blue Thunder” type blasted away at a car on a crowded freeway that was being chased by the police.

We still have the ‘innocent’ until proven guilty thing hanging around ya know.

We have an ‘innocent until proven guilty’ clause in our laws, but that doesn’t apply when 1. the suspect fires at Police Officers 2. when the suspect is tearing down the highway smashing into cars, etc., posing a higher risk to the public.
In these cases, I have seen many a Fox’s “Wildest Police Videos” when firearms were used to disable either the car or the suspect himself. I wouldn’t see anything wrong with a helicopter going in behind a supect’s car and sawing it in two with it’s machine gun.

I can’t imagine why it would come up before a legislature or city council. The cops in police helicopters ARE armed with their normal sidearms. So I would think it’s a matter of policy and practicality rather than law.

There are almost no situations I can think of when you would prefer a helicopter to be shooting rather than observing. A helicopter is a pretty bad gun platform, unless you want to take out a whole village.

I can’t find a cite, but I saw on some TLC or Discovery channel show where the San Bernardino police or Sheriff’s Dept. does in fact shoot from the chopper. (It had something to do with with one of the pilots being shot while holding a perimeter, and the air unit needing the ability to fight back)

They have a highly trained group of cops, who must regularly practice against targets while shooting from the helicopter, in order to remain on the team.
I wish I had more details, but all I can say is more power to them.

Perhaps if some of these idiots knew a cop in a helicopter could pick a cherry from the tree at 100 yards, they might not be so inclined to lead police on chases all over the place.

You might have some better luck if you look at FAA regulations. I’m sure armed aircraft are verboten apart from the military. Firing small arm from an aircraft might be different. I’m pretty sure that it’s specifically illegal for hunting and also illegal to even drop something from an airplane except for boming contests at a fly-in.

I think that the main reason is that it wouldn’t be all that useful; the police can use a rifle or hand-held machine gun from a helicoptor if they need to shoot at someone, and don’t have any real need for a .50 cal or racks of rockets. Since they wouldn’t see any real benefit from mounting weapons, and would have lots of costs (have to make and follow procedures for them, have to train on those weapons, have to worry about those weapons on other missions, have to secure those weapons, etc.) I can’t see any reason for a police department to mess with it.

There may be FAA regulations too, but I wouldn’t ‘be sure’ about them without reading them; common sense doesn’t tend to be a good guide to that sort of regulation, and most armaments laws exclude the police in addition to the military.

Kinda surprising, but you are allowed to drop objects from aircraft.

FAR 91.15

When that nutball stole that tank and went on a rampage crushing cars etc. the police were absolutely helpless.

Had it gone on longer and/or had the guy killed a bunch of people (amazingly, no one died except him) I’d like to think that whoever was in charge could have (and would have) gotten an Apache scrambled to the scene. A couple dozen depleted Uranium rounds would have made short order of the guy without much danger to the public.

Ah, yes—I was a door gunner for the LAPD.

Nope. You’re slightly in error, there.

Paraphrased, the FAA regs only state that, whatever you choose to drop from an airplane, it’s OK as long as nobody gets hurt and nothing gets broke. I do caution this applies only to the United States - laws and regs may be very different elsewhere.

Hunting from an aircraft is, indeed, not permitted

Now, in order to mount, as in, affix to aircraft. a weapon would require considerable paperwork, the time and labor of a certified mechanic, and some money. IF the FAA approves it. Which isn’t very likely. Much easier just to carry side-arms if you must be armed and flying.

But there’s an even better reason police don’t normally fire from choppers - a helicopter is NOT a stable platform! They swing, shift, sway… the recoil from a gun wouldn’t help, either. yes, the military does have helicopter gunships - with laser targeting systems and weapons that don’t require pin-point precision. Prior to the fancy electronics, it was some poor guy standing in the door with a machine gun or other weapon that, again, did not require precision targeting to get the job done. The standard copper-chopper isn’t designed for that sort of thing, doesn’t have any targeting aids, and in general is just not a very good choice for sharp-shooting.

It is illegal for the military (who operates Apache helicopters) to perform domestic police duties. I don’t know if there would be an exception to the rule because the tank was stolen from the military. Anybody else know?

Innocent until proven guilty applies all the time in a court of law. It’s called due process and it’s a right guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

Police officers are neither judge nor jury.

Generally speaking, a police officer may only use deadly force to protect themself or others when life is threatened.

I am an E.M.T. in New York State. I can categorically state that the Life Flight Medical Helicopters used by the New York State Police for rapid flight to a Level 1 Trauma Center are all piloted by State Troopers.

They wear their firearms at all times, in and out of the chopper. They wear their loaded firearms in the Emergency Room. If they weren’t prepared to use it, they would not wear it.

What is it with gun threads today??? :mad:


Dallas uses snipers from helicoptors. It came up recently in a chase with a truck full of burning wood

Stop! Or we’ll fire and turn you into charcoal!!


Wasn’t that car chase turned into a hit song by Edie Briquette and the New Charcoalians ???


When the Coast Guard is in pursuit of a suspected smuggler within US waters, I believe they use an anti-materiel rifle fired from a helicopter to disable the engine block. It seems unlikely that such a copter would engage a suspect who was returning fire, but I’m not 100% sure about that; it may happen. That’s on the water, though, so it’s different.

Here are two officer-involved shootings by US police snipers shooting from helicopters, one in CA, the other in TX. Both were firing on vehicles. In the Texas case, the suspect was unarmed. In both cases, again, these were snipers, not rack-mounted air-to-ground weapons or nose turrets.

California Incident:

Texas Incident:

Cartooniverse, the original question was about armed police choppers, not whether the pilots of police choppers are armed.

I assume by “wear their loaded firearms,” you mean they’re wearing sidearms.

It would be ludicrous to assume that just because a copter pilot has a sidearm, that means he or she would just haul his piece out and start shooting at a suspect on the ground – in the case of a single-pilot copter, presumably WHILE still piloting the copter.

Sidearms fired from a helicopter would be spray-and-pray.

That’s different than a police copter carrying a trained police sniper with an appropriate long arm.