Huntington Beach Police Department’s first of three new helicopters takes flight

Pilot Tyler Hanson inspects the tail rotor on a new Huntington Beach Police Department helicopter.
Pilot Tyler Hanson inspects the tail rotor on a new police helicopter before taking off from the Huntington Beach Police Department police helipad on Wednesday morning.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Jon Deliema was like a kid in a candy store.

Well, more accurately, he was a police officer in a helicopter.

But Deliema was definitely excited Wednesday as the Huntington Beach Police Department unveiled the first of three new police helicopters at its helipad, as part of its Air Support Unit.

The new MD 530F helicopters are black and gray, replacing the navy blue and white look of the older models.

“We’re happy with the final product,” said Deliema, a pilot who has been working full-time with the Air Support Unit for two years. “It looks amazing. This is going to be more responsive for the pilot in handling characteristics. You can turn this thing on a dime … MD has done a ton of different research and these are tried and true helicopters.”

Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra speaks during a press conference for a new police helicopter on Wednesday morning.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

In 2021, the Huntington Beach Police Department signed a $10-million purchase agreement for three MD 530F helicopters equipped with the latest law enforcement technology. The city was able to recoup about $3 million by selling two previously used HBPD helicopters, officials said.

The department’s Air Support Unit was established in 1968 and also contracts with the cities of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Irvine.

“Airborne law enforcement is critical to public safety,” Huntington Beach Police Chief Eric Parra said. “Anybody that’s been a police officer knows there’s nothing more comforting than when you’re out there looking for somebody, or you’re in a situation that’s dangerous, and an airship is there overhead. It’s like the voice of God coming over. I know it’s not the same, but it’s so close, because it gives you comfort, it gives you confidence, it gives you things you can’t do without that airborne law enforcement.”

Advantages of the new helicopters include a higher 3,350-pound gross weight, increased cruise speed, improved flight characteristics in confined areas and lower direct operating costs compared to the older aircraft.

All of the instrumentation is featured on four screens in the front, Deliema said.

“It takes all the information that you need as a pilot and puts it out there in a very user-friendly way,” he said. “It’ll tell you the wind direction, the wind speed, your map overlay of the air space is on there. It’s all stuff that’s definitely modern-day technology.”

A new police helicopter, flown by pilot Tyler Hanson and co-pilot Jon Deliema, flies by members of the media on Wednesday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The second and third new helicopters are expected to arrive in the next few months.

Some in attendance at Wednesday’s press conference and takeoff at the HBPD heliport called it a bittersweet day. It occurred nearly a year after HBPD Officer Nicholas Vella died in a helicopter crash while responding to a call in Newport Beach.

It also came four days after a 3-mile stretch of Beach Boulevard was designated as Nicholas Vella Memorial Highway.

Wednesday’s proceedings included a prayer by Huntington Beach Police Chaplain Roger Winn referencing Vella, followed by a moment of silence.

“We will forever associate this helicopter with Nick Vella and the tragedy that occurred, but we’re going to use these to enhance public safety here in Huntington Beach,” Parra said.

One person who might like to try the helicopter out is Huntington Beach City Councilman Pat Burns, a former longtime member of the Long Beach Police Department. Burns said he flew a slightly older model, an MD 500, in his time.

“I had a four-bladed tail rotor,” he said. “Otherwise, almost the same thing ... It’s probably the best patrol helicopter I’ve ever flown. It’s very maneuverable, it’s economical, and I don’t think you can get better for a patrol vehicle that I’ve flown.”

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