Helicopter Command Pilot Stuart Lomax soars above an LAPD bust, Dodger Stadium, the Hollywood Sign, Santa Monica Pier, sprawling hillside mansions and Downtown L.A. as part of the world's largest airborne law enforcement operation. At all times during daylight hours, at least two LAPD helos circle the 468.7-square-mile city.
Lomax calls what they see from aloft "like a silent movie" in which the airborne crews act as the eyes for police who are chasing, tracking or arresting suspects or responding to calls on the ground:
"You can see all the stuff that's happening on the ground," says Lomax. "We may not hear the gunshots or, you know, the tires screeching from suspects or whatever, but we can see all that's happening."
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In one of the most sought-after jobs in the 10,000-officer LAPD, these two-person crews — pilot and navigator — "paint a picture for those guys" working far below.
Among the skills honed by these helo crews is the ability to immediately know, based on memorized features on the ground and a sophisticated mapping system, the name of any street over which they're circling — whether it's an obscure dead-end in the hills or one of hundreds of grid streets that look identical to the untrained eye.
It's a tricky job when things are going down.
But hey, it's also one of the greatest tours of Los Angeles, and you can't buy a ticket at any price.