Do they still use aircraft to catch speeders?

I used to work at an aviation maintenance place washing airplanes for a summer job. One of the planes that would come in regularly was (one of) the Illinois State Police’s Cessnas. On the back of the sun visor was a sheet showing times in seconds, and speeds in mph. All you need to catch speeders is a stopwatch and a radio to tell the guy on the ground who to nail.

Here is a story about a kid who got clocked doing 205 mph on his motorcycle by an officer in an aircraft. He was actually outrunning the airplane.

You wouldn’t be talking about million-dollar Lear jets, more like Cessna spam-cans. Brand new they’re under $200,000 easily, and used ones are common as dirt and can be had for under $50,000. You want something that flies at or just above the speed of cars on a freeway, which for an airplane is pretty slow. Such airplanes can even be modified to safely burn premium car gas instead of aviation gasoline, which would further reduce costs.

It would be cheaper than flying police helicopters, and you see those all over.

Ome of dad’s friends was a CHP pilot. He was based at the Barstow-Daggett Airport (dad was a Flight Service Specialist there) and flew a Cessna 180. Having conventional gear (with large mains) gave the 180 the ability to land in the desert if needed. (And I remember CHP Bob having done that at least once, though I don’t remember the circumstances.)

Anyway, Cessnas. The popular 172 (which I’ve always thought of as a tricycle-gear version of the conventionally-geared 170) first flew in November, 1955. In 1960 the straight tail was replaced by a swept tail (172A) and shorter landing gear (172B). The 172D got a wrap-around rear window in 1963, the 172F got electric flaps, the 172G got a pointier spinner in 1966, and the 172H was the last of the Continental-powered 172s. (Dad’s was a 1970 172K Skyhawk, which was Lycoming powered.) I think it was 1972 when the 172 got a longer vertical stabiliser extension and tubular landing gear struts replaced the spring steel of earlier models, which also changed the aircraft’s stance on the ground. (I’ve always thought the earlier 172s looked more ‘jaunty’.) IIRC the flaps were limited to 30°, down from 40°, at this time. Production continued until mounting insurance costs caused by ridiculous awards in lawsuits caused Cessna to stop building single-piston-engine aircraft in the early-'80s, and resumed once Congress passed the General Aviation Revitalisation Act in 1994.

But here’s the thing: Unlike a car that has been in production for half a century, the 172 still has the same basic structure. The differences are more or less in the details. Paint a 30-year-old Cessna in the current scheme, and I don’t think I’d be able to tell the difference between it and a new one from 50 feet away. So ‘primitive’ is probably not the right word to describe GA aircraft. The improvements have been incremental and include such things as improved engines (which themselves share the same basic layout as they did in the 1930s), improved avionics, and improved sound insulation.

Similar observations can be made about Piper, Beechcraft, and other aircraft. Why do the manufacturers keep making ‘50-year-old airplanes’? Part of it is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ There’s little reason to change something that works. Another reason is the fear of lawsuits. We live in a litigious society, and lawsuits brought GA to its knees in the early-‘80s. Even if a change has nothing to do with a crash, someone will sue based on there having been a change. And the plaintiffs’ lawyers try to weed out anyone who knows anything about aviation during voir dire.

Does it make financial sense to use aircraft? In 1976 by dad bought his 1970 Skyhawk for $10,200. Today a six-year-old Skyhawk will set you back close to $100,000. A new one is closing in on $200,000. (Last time I checked, which is a few years ago, they were $175,000.) A 1970 aircraft will fetch around $40,000 nowadays. There are so many aircraft in police use throughout the country, that I can’t say what everyone uses. 172s have a maximum speed of about 135 mph, which is fast enough for most speeders. 182 Skylanes are faster and are better in mountainous areas due to their better climb performance.

Depending on the purchase price (there’s really no reason not to use an older aircraft) it’s not all that expensive to buy a patrol aircraft. They can cover a much wider area than a ground vehicle, and can take a straight line to where they’re needed instead of having to stick to the roads. A 172 will burn about 9 gallons/hour. Lycoming engines have a TBO (Time Between Overhaul) of 2,000 hours, so a busy flight operation that flies 8 hours per day per aircraft would need to rebuild the engines once a year. I haven’t checked the cost of that, but I’m guessing a rebuilt engine costs around $25,000 or $30,000. Then there are the 100-hour checks, annual inspections, oil, repairs, etc.

A patrol aircraft generates revenue by catching speeders. If an aircraft can replace a couple of patrol cars, then perhaps it is cost-effective. But another advantage of an aircraft is that it can be over an accident scene before a patrol car can. Not everyone drives on freeways all the time. On a little-travelled road a patrol car may never know there has been an accident, and passers-by may be few and far between. Discovering an injury crash a half-hour or an hour sooner than someone else might save a life. Another reason for aircraft is that they are useful in crime investigations. Consider a meth-lab out in the middle of a desert. A patrol car would be a give-away. People tend to notice helicopters flying around. But who pays attention to the dowdy Cessna? If the meth-maker notices it at all he might think it’s just someone out poking holes in the sky.

As for why a ‘primitive’ aircraft may be chosen for patrol work, older models are, as I have said, relatively inexpensive. (For businesses and government agencies. Not for me! :frowning: ) Certainly they are much less expensive than a helicopter, both in initial purchase price and in ongoing maintenance. And, in the case of Cessnas, which I think are the most popular choice, they have high-mounted wings that make it easy to look down at the ground. (Maules are another popular choice. They have high wings, and most of them also have conventional gear and STOL capabilities.) They fly slowly and can orbit a stopped vehicle closely, pace a car that is doing the speed limit or is speeding at the speeds most people speed, and can keep up with many or most cars that are being driven flat-out. Their altitudes can give an observer with a pair of binoculars a much wider field of view than is available to a ground-based unit.

Once again I’m beaten to the punch because of my verbosity. :wink:

The people who directly allocate the money to pay their salaries are the members of the state legislatures. Seems to me that they are doing exactly what the state legislatures want. If you as a taxpayer and voter want a change in policy, then petition your legislature and encourage others to do so as well. Make it an issue during elections. That’s the only way to tell if you are in the minority or not.

… because the State Police only had 269 uniformed personnel and CHP had over 5000. Also, CHP has a high visibility on the highways, while State Police were probably just guarding the Capitol, the Governor, and the courts.

[QUOTE=Bearflag70State Police were probably just guarding the Capitol, the Governor, and the courts.[/QUOTE]

And aquaducts. :wink:

Back in circa the late 70’s/early 80’s Electrolert (the company that made the original Fuzzbuster brand radar detector) had a little device called “Spybuster”. It detected aircraft transponders in the 1.09 GHz range. When one of the State Police Cessnas’ were near the thing would alert just like a radar detector. They don’t make them anymore. I don’t know if you could
buy something similar that might do the same thing.

There is a device by Uniden called Beartracker.
It doesn’t detect aircraft but doest detect the mobile repeater that some states have in their highway patrol cars. I have one, it works terrific! The nice thing is, it’s all pre-programmed so you don’t have to enter any frequencies. Just push the button to what state you’re in and away you go.

I don’t use mine for speeding, of course. I just use it as a scanner to listen in on the action while I’m driving.

Well, it does actually detect aircraft radio communications (between commercial planes and the tower) but State Police generally don’t use that frequency during speed patrol.

Some of us taxpayers consider safe highways to be money well-spent. Also, speeders have been known to cause harm.

Traffic stops are, in fact, an effective way of taking dangerous criminals off the streets. A large percentage of people who have warrents for their arrest are caught because of a traffic stop.

[anecdote]At work we monitor the police radios for our coverage area (one city actually has us air our responses to police dispatch). I’m absolutely amazed by the number of people stopped for traffic violations who have outstanding warrants.[/anecdote]

Also keep in mind that most of the states mentioned as having police planes (such as Texas and California) are BIG states. There is a LOT of ground in these places to cover, especially if you get to some parts of the country where the Farm Market Roads form a massive labrynth of narrow roads winding through the hills between the highways (at least in Texas). I imagine that Rhode Island doesn’t use aviation to patrol it’s highways (but then, I’ve been wrong before).

I guess people who have problems following the big rules of society also have trouble following the little rules, too…?

Although our state police are officially known as DPS (Dept of Public Safety ) Troopers, we just call them Highway Patrol here too.

Yeah, go figure, huh? :slight_smile:

It’s not just large states.

Years ago (about 10 or so), I got pulled over heading up Rt 93 in NH. The explanation when I asked “what’s going on?” was “We’ve got the plane out today…” I then replied… “Oh… how fast was I going?”

I got only a warning.

Others asked about the $ involved in speed traps. I’d say they pay for themselves in violation revenue alone. Not that I’m in favor of it. If the speed limits were actually reasonable, then I might have a different opinion. A 4 lane highway, at 11PM shouldn’t be restricted to 55mph. IMO. YMMV.

Don’t know about the situation in California. But here in Wisconsin he have a “State Patrol” not State Police. The state patrol, by statute, is not a police force, but an enforcement division of the Department of Transportation. They are usually not called on to conduct criminal investigations outside the scope of their authority under DOT.

Some states have “state patrols” some have “state police” and some have “highway patrols”. I’m guessing the actual official name for the agency may be based on what it’s objective is and where it derives it’s power from. Some “state police” agencies derive their authority from the states department of justice, and therefore is charged with more than just traffic patrol. Therefore, in many states the “state police” tend to be the highest authority in the state.

That’s not the case here in the Majikal Land O’Cheeze. The Capitol Police is actually the highest authority.

California has many of the same signs.

I’ve always been amused by the choice of the word “enforced” over, say, “monitored.” I imagine a police plane opening fire on a speeder, or using some kind of grappling hook.

An old friend of mine, while we were both resident in California, used to complain a lot about that wording. That is, until I showed him the following definition from

Police presence itself sometimes is all that’s necessary to ensure obedience to certain laws.