Sunday, September 1, 2019

A Guide to L.A. Area Helicopters

“What’s that helicopter overhead?”

Here’s a guide to most of the helicopters you’ll see flying around Glendale and northeast Los Angeles. There are also apps (I use FlightRadar24 and OpenADSB) that show you the location and info of most (but not all!) helicopters and aircraft overhead, so with a mixture of app and eyeball, you’ll be able to ID just about anything. Photos were all taken by me.


Rules of thumb:

  • If they’re low and circling, they’re law enforcement
  • If they’re hovering (and not near an airport or helipad) they’re TV news
  • If they’re very loud and make a deep thumpa-thumpa sound, they’re probably LA County or LAFD firefighting helicopters


Law Enforcement


The most common helicopters I see throughout the L.A. area (even in Glendale) are LAPD Eurocopter AS350 A-Stars. Police helicopters generally circle overhead rather than hover, and will fly lower than most other helicopters you’ll see. LAPD helicopters have spotlights and round sensor balls.

LAPD AS350 A-Star

LAPD runs the largest municipal airborne law enforcement operation in the world, flying 19 helicopters, 14 of which are variants of the Eurocopter AS350 A-Star. Most of LAPD’s helicopters are now painted in black and white just like a patrol car, but a few have an older silver-and-blue paint scheme. In addition to the A-Stars, LAPD also has 2 Bell 206 Jet Rangers, and 1 larger Bell 412 utility helicopter (an evolution of the classic Vietnam-era “Huey”).

LAPD AS350 A-Star
LAPD Bell 206 (older silver & blue paint scheme)

LAPD AS350 A-Star (older silver & blue paint scheme)


LAPD AS350 A-Star sensor ball

Burbank and Glendale PD operate a joint air support unit based at the Burbank airport which operates 3 small MD520N helicopters, which are an evolution of the classic egg-shaped Hughes 500 (the “Magnum P.I.” helicopter), but with a NOTAR fan inside the tailboom rather than a traditional tail rotor. Thanks to the NOTAR system, MD520N’s are quieter and make a distinctive muffled “whoosh” sound. Occasionally you will see one land on top of Glendale PD headquarters.

Glendale/Burbank MD520N. Notice lack of of an external tail rotor.

Pasadena PD operates two OH-58/Bell 206 helicopters that are larger and heavier than the Glendale/Burbank MD520N's. They use a 2 bladed rotor that makes a percussive “thump thump thump thump” sound. They also operate an MD500E which is basically the same as the classic Magnum P.I. helicopter. Pasadena’s MD500E does not have the NOTAR fan system and uses a traditional tail rotor, so it’s slightly louder than Burbank and Glendale’s MD520N's. N224KB is one of Pasadena's OH-58’s, and I hear it over the eastern side of Glendale frequently. Pasadena PD's helicopters operate from the Benedict Heliport just north of the 210. In 2012, two of their helicopters were destroyed when they collided at the Heliport, but no one was seriously injured. NTSB narrative here.

Pasadena PD OH-58 over Glendale during recent brushfire in Eagle Rock at the 2/134 freeways

The LA County Sheriff also has an air bureau with 14 Eurocopter A-Stars painted in gold, yellow and green, as well as 3 AS332 Super Puma rescue helicopters. The Super Pumas are, by the standards of this list, enormous, and are primarily used for rescue and airlift duties.

An LA County Sheriff Aero Bureau Super Puma departs the helipad at Huntington Hospital

There are also surveillance helicopters used by federal agencies throughout the county, but they are fairly uncommon. They are usually AS350’s, don’t carry prominent agency markings, but may have a small sensor ball on the belly. This one was involved in a mishap at Fullerton Airport - if you look closely you’ll see the sensor ball.

The California Highway Patrol also has helicopters, mostly AS350’s and Bell 206’s, but I don’t see them often.

News

The second most common category of helicopter you’ll see overhead are TV news helicopters. As far as I know, all of the news stations in Los Angeles fly...you guessed it, Eurocopter AS350 A-Stars. Most local news helicopters are based at Helinet at the Van Nuys Airport, and there’s also a fleet of news helicopters operated by Welk Aviation based at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima. The local TV stations don't actually own their helicopters, they contract their helicopter operations out to Helinet or Welk. If you hear helicopters hovering, those are almost always news helicopters over the scene of an accident or other newsworthy event. You can also tell news helicopters by the stabilized cameras with huge zoom lenses on the front of the helicopter.

AS350 A-Star operated by Welk Aviation for NBC 4 News
AS350 A-Star used by ABC7

Civil

Most of the recreational helicopters you’ll see are Robinson R22’s and R44’s. R22’s and R44’s are, by the standards of this list, very light, small and inexpensive, and are also commonly used for sightseeing tours. You’ll see them flying tours over the beach and near the Hollywood sign very frequently. Their piston engines don’t have the high pitched turbine whine sound of the other helicopters I’ve mentioned. Robinson helicopters are built locally at the enormous Robinson Helicopter factory at the Torrance Airport, which you can tour (for free) - highly recommended!

R22 at the Robinson Helicopter factory in Torrance
An R44 at the Robinson Helicopter factory in Torrance. Nerds will note that it's wearing an Ecuadorian registration rather than a US N-number.

Firefighting/Rescue

If you hear an unusually loud helicopter overhead, it’s probably a firefighting helicopter. Both LAFD and LA County operate fleets of firefighting/rescue helicopters that see heavy use during summer fire season. LAFD primarily flies red and white AugustaWestland AW139 helicopters based at Van Nuys Airport, and LA County operates a mix of Sikorsky S-70 Firehawks (a firefighting version of the military Blackhawk) and Bell 412’s (an evolution of the Huey) painted yellow, white and black and based at Whiteman Airport in Pacoima. These helicopters can carry water to drop on fires, can hoist lost and injured hikers, and are heavier and more powerful than most of the other helicopters here, so if you hear a deep thumpa thumpa sound, it’s likely one of these guys. LA County also contracts an Erickson Air Crane helicopter (as well as 2 firefighting Super Scooper aircraft) during the summer fire season - the Air Crane looks like a big dragonfly and frequently has a hose hanging down for sucking up water. The Air Crane is based at Van Nuys Airport. 

LAFD AW139 over the recent fire at the 2/134 freeways

LAFD AW139 at Hansen Dam

LA County Fire S-70 Firehawk

LA County Fire Bell 412
Erickson Air Crane (contracted to LA County)

Medical

If you’re near a hospital, you’re going to see medical helicopters used to transport patients taking off and landing. Most commonly, I see the two Sikorsky S-76’s operated (and donated) by Helinet which serve Children’s Hospital LA.

Military/Coast Guard

There are a number of military installations (Camp Pendleton, Pt Mugu, March ARB, Los Alamitos AAF, Fort Irwin) throughout southern California, and it’s common to spot military helicopters transitioning from one base to another or on a training exercise, frequently flying in pairs and following freeways. The most common military helicopters you'll see are variants of the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter which is used by all branches of the military. I most often spot grey Navy Seahawks over Glendale, usually in pairs headed west along the 134, probably headed towards Pt Mugu. V-22 Osprey tiltrotors are also pretty common, and I’ll spot Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra attack helicopters as well every few weeks. Other Army helicopters like the tandem rotor Chinook or Apache gunship pop up occasionally, but not as often. Perhaps once a year there will be a larger scale military exercise with more military helicopter activity than normal.

Levitated Army UH-60 over Levitated Mass at LACMA
An Army UH-60 Blackhawk at Long Beach Airport
Army UH-60 Blackhawk
UH-60 Blackhawks based at Los Alamitos Army Airfield
V-22 Osprey tiltrotor
Marine Corps AH-1 Super Cobra landing at French Valley Airport

The United States Coast Guard also operates an Air Station based at NAS Pt Mugu and flies bright orange-red HH-65 Dauphin helicopters that make a high pitched turbine whine. They are not as common inland, but I did see a Coast Guard Dauphin over Silver Lake recently.




Coast Guard HH-65 Dauphin at NAS Pt Mugu


Bonus: Presidential


Not very common, but quite spectacular: If you see a mixed gaggle of large military helicopters that includes two white and green Sea King helicopters, those are the helicopters used by the president. They are pre-positioned locally about a week before POTUS arrives in town, and they do a dry run, flying all over town familiarizing themselves with the routes and landing zones they will use so things go smoothly and safely when POTUS is on board. I’ve seen the dry runs several times, and in 2013, I watched President Obama’s helicopters take off from the field at Toll Middle School in Glendale.

Marine One (with President Obama aboard) taking off from Toll Middle School 

Marine One (with President Obama aboard) taking off from Toll Middle School 
CH-53 Super Stallion taking off from Toll Middle School
CH-53 Super Stallion taking off from Toll Middle School

This list should cover 95% of what you'll see nearby, but if you can't ID something, feel free to tweet me @tropicostation with a photo. Hat tip to John Wiseman for inspiring this with his guide. If you're interested in this stuff, follow Matt Hartman at Shorealone Films; if an aircraft or helicopter is flying in Southern California, Matt has taken better quality photos of it than I have.

I recommend visiting the American Heroes helicopter show at Hansen Dam on November 9th, where you can see most of these helicopters up close, talk to the crews and learn more about the roles they serve.

Another great place to watch helicopters is on the patio at the 94th Aero Squadron at the Van Nuys Airport. Helinet is a few hundred feet away, and during summer the Super Scoopers and Sky Crane are based right next door. LAFD's base is also just across the runway on the other side of the airport, so there's always interesting activity. Happy spotting!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Grayson Dirty Energy GWP Meeting Report

The Glendale Water & Power Commission meeting last night was very well attended, with over 50 members of the public taking time out from their busy lives to oppose the Grayson dirty energy proposal and advocate for a cleaner Glendale. We had to wait over 2.5hrs to have our say, but when the time came, 21 people got up and spoke against the project in its current iteration, and not one member of the public spoke in favor of the proposed $500 million dollar expansion. My comments to the Commission are below. I was very moved by the sincerity and depth of knowledge of those who showed up.


Two big takeaways from the meeting for me were:
a) GWP's General Manager Steve Zurn admitted that this proposal is the result of lack of foresight from GWP a decade ago [video], when they could have foreseen the need for modest, phased upgrades to the plant to smoothly bridge the gap towards cleaner energy sources, but failed to act.
So the geniuses who didn't foresee the need for phased upgrades now propose throwing $500 million dollars away on a massive fossil fuel plant expansion right as cleaner, less expensive alternatives are becoming available. Inexcusable.
All of the Water & Power commissioners asked some good questions, particularly Roland Kedikian and Sarojini Lall. All of the commissioners saw the need for upgrades to Grayson, but questioned the size of the GWP proposal in the face of projected energy needs. Everyone seemed baffled by GWP's failure to include cleaner alternatives in a diversified matrix of solutions instead of one giant outdated fossil fuel plant.
If you didn't make it out to last night's meeting, there is another meeting on Thursday, October 19th. Also, please e-mail the members of the Glendale City Council and and ask them to do what LADWP did and commission an independent study of cleaner alternatives. The public also has until 11/3 to submit comments to Erik Krause in the City Planner’s office: ekrause@glendaleca.gov


Please watch Daniel Brotman's point by point takedown of the rationale given by GWP:


Full video of the meeting is here: http://glendale.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=17&clip_id=6426



Some highlights:
0:00-1:18 draft EIR presentation
1:18 questions from commissioners begin
1:45 stranded asset questions
1:48 retirement age of boilers question from kedikian
1:49 "should have planned for this 20 years ago" answer from Zurn
2:05 discussion of lack of alternative energy analysis
2:13 discussion of projected capacity vs need, and excess capacity
2:16 "balancing this out" comments from avanessian
2:24 public comment begins with a thorough takedown of the proposal from Professor Daniel Brotman
2:42 me
....lots more speakers...
then
3:23-3:34 additional comments from commissioners
3:35 oral communications, 1 additional speaker against






Previously: Don't Let GWP Increase Air Pollution in Glendale

Monday, October 9, 2017

Don't Let GWP Increase Air Pollution in Glendale

Glendale Water & Power proposes spending $500 MILLION DOLLARS to replace nearly all of the existing, aging Grayson Power Plant (which produces around 16% of Glendale's electricity) with a much larger fossil fuel powered natural gas power plant.
Digging through the draft EIR, here it is in black and white on page 4.3.34. THE NEW PLANT WILL INCREASE MAXIMUM EMISSIONS in Glendale relative to the old plant:

Despite vague GWP claims that the new plant would be "cleaner," the proposal significantly increases the generation capacity of the plant far beyond what is required for Glendale's needs, and it is designed to be run much more often than the current plant, which is now mainly used only at peak times. The result is if you are anywhere in Glendale, Burbank, Atwater Village or Eagle Rock, you and your children will breathe more pollution every day under this proposal than you do today.
This astoundingly expensive proposal is especially misguided given that much cleaner renewable alternatives to a gas powered plant are available now, and prices for renewable energy solutions are falling dramatically every year. Additionally, the state legislature passed SB350, which mandates 50% clean energy in California by 2030, and this year nearly passed SB100, which would require 100% clean energy in California by 2045. Does it make sense to make a decades long $500 million dollar investment right as the price of clean alternatives plummet and state mandates make it a strong possibility that the plant would need to be retired well before it's paid for?
The timing of this proposal is so profoundly bad it makes you wonder if GWP spent top dollar on VHS tapes just as DVD players were getting cheap. California currently has a glut of electricity, and electricity use across the state is FALLING due to more efficient appliances and the rapid adoption of residential solar. In fact, the L.A. Department of Water & Power recently put all of their similar "repowering" projects on hold until they can more thoroughly investigate cleaner choices, rather than locking in decades of expensive and dirty fossil fuel power generation.
We in Glendale must demand better from our government and require them to protect our health while preparing Glendale's electrical system for a cleaner future. A gas powered plant was forward thinking in 1941, but it's a huge step backwards in 2017.
I'm reprinting this excellent information sheet from the Glendale Environmental Coalition, which makes a well informed, fact-based argument as to why this is the wrong idea at the wrong time at the wrong price. Please read, investigate and take action.
-scott (yes, this is important enough to dust off the 'ol blog!)
_________________________________________




Glendale wants to rebuild the Grayson gas plant at San Fernando and Flower. They call it a “repowering” but it is actually an expansion which will produce vastly more power than Glendale needs and place a huge financial and environmental burden on residents for 30 years. They are rushing headlong into the project without having fully considered clean energy options. We call on the Mayor and City Council to pause the CEQA process and conduct an honest and independent study of the alternatives to this big, expensive and dirty project.


Grayson will impose huge financial costs and economic risks on residents

  • Glendale plans to take out a bond for $500 million to finance the project (about $7,500 for a family of four). Residents will be on the hook for repaying this plus interest over 30 years.
  • Glendale has not been transparent with its financial assumptions and there are serious risks. They are expecting to generate extra power and sell it on commodities exchange.
  • First, what happens if they can’t sell the excess power at a profit? California is facing a power glut right now and prices are low. GWP is betting our financial future on prices rebounding. Do we really want our city playing in the markets with our money? Anyone remember Enron?
  • Second, California utilities must be 50% renewable by 2030 while Grayson is 0% renewable. GWP expects to make up the lost renewable portion by purchasing external power but so are many other utilities. This will lead to a spike in the cost of renewable power and a substantial risk to Grayson’s financing. We should instead build local renewable energy for price security.
  • Third, California’s cap and trade program requires all power producers to pay a cost per ton of CO2 emitted. The price is expected to go up significantly but GWP is sticking with their low ball assumptions. Are they fooling themselves or just us?
  • Grayson sits on a mapped Liquefaction Hazard Zone which makes it susceptible to ground movement in the event of an earthquake – not unlike what we recently saw in Mexico City. It is likely that the gas and water lines leading to the plant will rupture, causing explosions and fire, or at best putting the facility out of commission when we need it the most. Clean energy alternatives are not subject to these kinds of risks.


The $500 million proposed plant will generate 175% of Glendale’s need


  • With the combination of today’s Grayson and electricity imports, Glendale currently has over 400 megawatts (MW) of power capacity. This is enough to cover Glendale’s needs which average about 225 MW in summer months and can spike up to almost 350 MW a fews days per year. The proposed expansion would increase the capacity to over 500 MW. That means Glendale would be sitting on 45% more electricity than needed at our absolute peak. Who will buy it?
  • This power excess increases over time as residents install more rooftop solar and energy efficiency drives down demand. By 2035, if the Grayson expansion goes ahead, GWP will have almost 550 MW of power vs. a peak demand of 300 MW, or an excess of 75-80%.
  • Why is Glendale proposing to oversupply like this? GWP’s internal documents show how GWP plans to sell excess power at a profit to other cities. Glendale wants to speculate in the power markets to make up for its non-utility budget problems! They will say that they need the excess capacity for emergency power but Grayson is on an earthquake liquefaction zone and in a flood zone so having a single point of failure power plant is not a safe backup power source.


An expanded Grayson will damage our environment and health

  • The proposed plant will increase greenhouse gas emissions at a time when California is aggressively moving to cut climate pollutants and many neighboring cities are setting zero carbon targets. Are we willing to accept being so out of step with the rest of the State? Do we want to contribute to more extreme heat, drought and fire risk?
  • The new plant will emit more pollutants into surrounding neighborhoods because much of it will now be running 24/7 to maximize sales (the current plant operates more as a backup for when demand peaks). These pollutants – carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx), particulates, and volatile chemicals (VOC) like Benzene, Formaldehyde, Toluene, etc – add to our smoggy skies and are known causes of asthma; cancers; heart and kidney disease. They will affect not only nearby residents, schools and businesses but a broad region including Glendale and neighboring Burbank and NELA. The air in the area already fails to meet federal guidelines. We need less pollution, not more.
  • Demolition of the existing facility and soil remediation will take at least 26 months and stir up lung-piercing particulate, asbestos, and other unknown toxins that are better left intact.


There are clean energy alternatives today and more are on the horizon


  • There is over 400 MW rooftop solar capacity in Glendale. On top of this, acreage at Scholl Canyon (assuming the dump is closed) and elsewhere could accommodate large solar installations contributing another 70 MW of capacity.
  • Glendale could move faster on energy efficiency to meet its peak power needs through building retrofits, incentive programs to households and other programs at a fraction of the $500 million it would cost to build Grayson. The cheapest energy is the energy we don’t use!
  • Large-scale commercial battery energy storage facilities are becoming common and are already cheaper per megawatt-hour than gas solutions - and prices are plummeting. A massive rooftop solar project combined with battery backup would provide the capacity and emergency power we need and also take advantage of the significant federal money that is available.
Action

  • GWP is trying to scare us with dire warnings of plant failures and blackouts, but these are empty threats. We can continue to use the existing units for several more years. If absolutely necessary, GWP could adopt a phased approach by purchasing one or two small, fast-ramping gas units as an insurance policy against summertime demand spikes. There are many low-cost, low-risk options that do not require spending $500 million and which would keep our options open to transition to a clean energy future.
  • Email Glendale City Council members and ask them to do what LADWP did - commission an independent study of clean energy alternatives. The public also has until 5pm on Nov. 3rd to submit comments to Erik Krause in the City Planner’s office: ekrause@glendaleca.gov.
  • Attend hearings at City Hall (613 E Broadway, 2F) on October 16th at 6pm or at the Grayson plant (800 Air Way) on October 19th at 6pm, or attend BOTH!

_________________________________________

Ok, Scott here again. Some further reading:


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Car vs Fire Hydrant At The Americana


Reader Nina Mudick sent in this spectacular photo of a Mercedes vs. traffic signal vs. fire hydrant collision taken outside The Americana at Brand this Sunday. Welcome to #helloGlendale, Bourbon Steak! You are now one of us.

Here's a video taken shortly after the incident via Youtube:


Meanwhile, on Glendale's eastern border, this is what you currently see when entering city limits via Colorado Blvd (photo via @greyrot):



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Spectacular Photos of Presidential Helicopters Over Glendale

Today President Barack Obama visited Dreamworks Animation in Glendale, marking his second visit to Glendale as President. His retinue of helicopters landed at Toll Middle School in Glendale before the motorcade departed for Dreamworks. I took these photos of the helicopters departing Toll's playground.

The President travels in one of two identical VH-3D Sea King helicopters - the helicopter with the President aboard is known as Marine One. The two Sea Kings were also accompanied by two enormous CH-53E Super Stallion support helicopters. Marine Helicopter Squadron One (HMX-1) is the squadron responsible for Presidential helicopter transport.





 













Earlier in the day, I was able to catch a glimpse in the distance of Marine One descending towards Toll.


This video from Father Vazken Movsesian of St. Peter's Armenian church shows the Presidential entourage's visit to Toll most comprehensively, as it was taken from inside the police perimeter.


Here's the best video I've found of all four helicopters lifting off from Toll.

Here's MY video of all four helicopters lifting off. Apologies for the shaky quality, I was shooting the video with my left hand and taking the stills you see above with my right!


Related: