Three new Glendale police helicopter pilots received their wings Monday, including the city's first female police pilot, Sandra Conrad.
"As far as we know, she's only one of three female police officers who are helicopter pilots in this state," said Glendale Police Capt. Glynn Martin, who oversees the department's air support operations.
During ceremonies at the department's heliport on Flower Street, members of Conrad's family helped her celebrate the career milestone, including her mother, Beverly Henry of Santa Clarita, and her sons, Tracy Conrad, 21, and Duff Conrad, 16.
"I think it's great," her older son said. "She's set a lot of goals in her life, and she's accomplished them all."
The new pilot has been a Glendale police officer since 1979 and has spent four years as a police dog handler. She has worked as an observer in the helicopter program for the past three years.
"I felt this was one way I could have a change of pace from working the street but still have the same type of job," said Conrad, 38.
She said she is puzzled by the scarcity of female police helicopter pilots.
"I don't know if there's a reason," Conrad said. "There's a lack of interest, maybe. Also, it's very expensive to get the training."
The department paid for the officers' training.
Also receiving their wings during Monday's ceremony were officers Ashraf Mankarios, 28, and Peter Pressnall, 27. All of the recipients worked as observers in the program before completing about six months of ground school and flight training to become pilots.
Officers must have at least two years of experience with the Glendale department before they can be considered for the helicopter program, which includes one sergeant and five officers. After Monday's ceremony, five of the six have their pilot's wings, and the sixth is in training.
Police Sgt. Ron Allison, who supervises the program, said Glendale's three helicopters provide aerial support day and night to narcotics and auto theft investigators and are often the first to spot crime suspects.
"There are only two things they can do," he said. "They can run, in which case we'll follow them, or they can stay put and hide, in which case they'll be there until the ground units arrive."
During hazardous high-speed pursuits, a helicopter can reduce the need for patrol cars. Mankarios recalled one memorable flight during which a Glendale helicopter kept pace with a man fleeing on a stolen motorcycle.
"We chased him for 40 to 45 minutes," the officer recalled. When the Glendale helicopter ran low on fuel, police helicopters from Burbank and Los Angeles took over the pursuit, leading to the man's arrest in Newhall, with no injuries, Mankarios said.
The Glendale Police Department has operated a helicopter program for about 16 years.
Police Chief David J. Thompson, who attended Monday's ceremony, said the helicopters are a necessity because of the city's rugged hillsides. He said a patrol car might not be able to respond quickly enough to a report of children playing with matches in a remote brush area.
"The noise may be irritating from time to time, but by and large, I think the citizens feel a sense of comfort knowing the helicopter is overhead," he said.