Dave Oglesbee

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Like a lot of us, Dave Oglesbee's interest in aviation began with RC airplanes. His dad gave him a chance at the real thing, and Dave took it, becoming a private pilot, an Army helicopter pilot, a pilot for the Marion County, Fla. Sheriff's Department, and Chief Pilot for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Agency. He's now working to develop a system for recognizing the contributions of law enforcement associations around the country. In this month's Profile Dave talks with AVweb's Joe Godfrey about flying low and slow for the Army, flying prisoners for the Sheriff, night-vision training in Black Hawks, and spotting alligator nests from the air.

Dave OglesbeeDave Oglesbee was born August 15, 1962, in Camanche, Iowa. His dad noted his interest in RC airplanes, gave him a chance at the real thing, and Dave was hooked. He worked at the airport for pay for flying lessons and missed his high school senior group picture to take his private checkride. He earned an ROTC scholarship to the University of Dubuque, graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1984, and joined the Army. He flew helicopters at Ft. Rucker, Ala., Ft. Stewart, Ga.., and Ft. Irwin, Calif.

In 1990, just before Desert Storm, he resigned his commission and flew for the Sheriff's Department of Marion County, Fla. He transported prisoners in rented airplanes, and flew patrols in the department's new MD500. He chased both good guys — flying lots of search and rescue of Florida's elderly population — and bad guys — he won a FLIR award in 1995 after finding and tracking a fleeing suspect. In 1995 he became Chief Pilot for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Agency, supporting the conservation effort, including supervising the legal collection of alligator eggs from the air, and chasing the poachers. He recently left that post to help develop the motivation and recognition of airborne law enforcement associations around the country.

How did you get interested in aviation? Were there pilots in your family?

I didn't have anyone in my family who had ever been a pilot. As a matter of fact, I don't believe that anyone in my family had ever flown in an airplane other than a commercial airline.

My dad worked for an oil pipeline company. They had a contract pilot that flew the pipeline in a Cessna 172. I would ride with him from Colorado where I lived with my parents, to Kansas where my grandparents lived. This was my introduction to flying and came to me when I was about eight years old.

I really got into flying when I was in high school growing up in Camanche, Iowa. I had a cousin who was into remote-controlled airplanes. I had watched him building them and talked about flying them with him and I wanted one in the worst way. I asked my parents for one for my 17th birthday, just before my senior year. My father said he would look into it but he didn't think it was worth the money. I was shocked when he came to me a couple of days before my birthday and told me I could either have the remote-controlled airplane or a flying course he had found called the "Blue Sky Course." He explained that for the same amount of money as the remote-controlled airplane, he could buy this course which would give me 13 hours of flight instruction, including a solo flight in a real airplane. After about 1/10 of a second of thought, I decided that actual flying had to be better than the remote-controlled stuff. I didn't know that my father had failed to discuss this with my mother. It didn't take much to talk her into it.

On my 17th birthday, he took me to the airport and I took my introductory flight in a Piper Cherokee 140. I was hooked after that.

The 13 hours of flight soon ran out. I was well into soloing by now and really enjoyed it. I didn't have any money to pay for the rest of the training. I went to the owner of the FBO, Mr. Straley of Straley Aviation in Clinton, Iowa. I explained to him my extreme desire to fly and my need for a job, and he hired me and took me under his wing. Under the agreement, I worked, the money went on account, I flew as much as I needed to and neither one of us worried about whether he owed me or I owed him. I think we came out pretty even.

I could never thank him enough.

Who got the first ride, your dad or Mr. Strayley?

My first ride after I got my license was with my dad. He had a great time. I flew often with Mr. Straley and he told me he really loved the way I flew and would fly with me any time. Again, small words that I'm sure he quickly forgot but I never will.

I gave my grandfather his first small aircraft ride. He was in his late 60s at the time. That was a thrill. This happened about three weeks after I got my rating.

Who gave you the checkride?

I took my check ride with a guy named Fred DeKyrl, and I missed my senior group picture in order to take it. Fred was in the Army Air Corps at the outbreak of WWII. He never entered the war because he was to old. He was an instructor in the states instead. That should give you an idea how old he was in 1980.

How did you get into the Army?

  Close quarters in a TH-55 at Ft. Rucker, Ala. (1984).
I went straight from high school to the University of Dubuque in Dubuque, Iowa. They had an aviation program — a part 141 school — as part of their academic program. After my freshman year, even though I was on a partial academic scholarship, I couldn't afford to keep the flying part up. The Army ROTC department got my name from somewhere, and after I talked to them I decided to take the test for a scholarship, and I was lucky enough to pass.

The Army ROTC scholarship was great at the time. They paid for all of my flying, books, tuition and fees. The college still gave me my academic scholarship so I was actually paid to go to college — pretty good deal. I was lucky enough to be one of fifty ROTC cadets from across the country who were selected to attend the cadet flight training program at Fort Rucker, Ala., between my junior and senior year.

I graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1984 with a degree in aviation flight operations and one in aviation management. The same day I graduated I was commissioned a Regular Army Second Lieutenant and left for Officer Basic Course in Ft. Bliss, Texas. Army aviation had just become a branch the year before and their basic course was not quite ready yet. The Army, in its infinite wisdom, sent me to the Air Defense Basic Course. It made me feel great about my career choice to fly through these great defenses.

How did you transition to helicopters?

I started flying helicopters at Ft. Rucker, Ala. I guess I had been in the active duty Army for about three months at that point. Rucker was real active in 1984 — helicopters in the air night and day.

I graduated flight school in May of 1985. For six months I waited at Rucker for the Black Hawk transition which I was supposed to receive. The problem was that the Black Hawks were grounded because they were coming apart in flight and they didn't know why. I was finally sent to Ft. Stewart, Ga. — Hunter Army Airfield — flying Hueys. Unfortunately they didn't need any Huey pilots at the time, so they transitioned me to an OH-58 pilot.

The OH-58 is one of the most basic aircraft in the Army inventory. The aircraft we flew were the A model and the C model, and now they use the D model. The A and C models were basically the same in appearance, except the C model had what they called "flat glass". The windshield was totally flat which was supposed to reduce the amount of glint the enemy could see as the sun reflected off of you. It also required a separate structural piece on each side of the windscreen so that the side glass could be put in. This created a tremendous obstruction to the vision of the pilot. The C model also had a bigger engine and had dual tail rotor controls. They were both basically "slick" aircraft.

They were forming a new attack battalion, and I got a platoon leader's job flying the OH-58 as an aerial scout, which was much more fun and exciting.

What does an aerial scout do?

  U.S. Army OH-58 in the treetops
We did the same things you saw the scouts do in the old movies, we just did it from the air. A lot of low and slow flying, sneaking and peeking and being the eyes and the ears of the Division. We often flew with the aircraft itself in the trees with just the main rotor sticking out above the trees. This was usually done at less than 40 KIAS.

The whole concept of tactical flying at the time was the lower you were, the better chance you had to survive. I do not ever remember flying tactically at over 100 feet AGL. We often trained at the National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, Calif., in the high Mojave desert about 30 or so miles outside of Barstow. We would fly less than 10 feet AGL at around 100 KIAS. That's the way we were trained to fly and the only way we would survive in the open environment of the desert. Of course there were no wire hazards and what hazards existed were clearly marked on our maps. It's amazing, and I guess it could be attributed to youth, but you could get really comfortable flying in that environment. Of course if you want to do that kind of flying, join the Army, don't try it in your Cessna.

These scout aircraft were totally defenseless. We carried no weapons (other than personal weapons) on board. The D model, which came later, did have the ability to defend itself. It was good work. That was my most enjoyable job in the Army.

What else did you fly?

The most fun aircraft I flew was the UH-60 Black Hawk. This is truly a tremendous aircraft, with more power than can be imagined for a helicopter of its time. Totally empty or fully loaded, it was amazing. It went through its growing pains initially and unfortunately some good crews lost their lives but in my opinion it turned out to be one of the best helicopters the Army ever purchased.

We just lost a Black Hawk in a night-training excercise in Hawaii. While we don't know yet what caused the accident, can you give us an idea of how you train in close formation with night-vision goggles?

Anytime you have two aircraft flying in very close proximity to each other, you increase the hazard. In Hawaii they were using night-vision goggles, but it wasn't that long ago that two Black Hawks ran together during a daytime demonstration. Formation flying requires the crew's 110% attention, and when you add the goggles they have to be that much more attentive. The aircraft were probably supposed to be within about a rotor disk of each other. The closer you are, the easier it is to tell if you are moving in relation to the other aircraft. It's like following a car, if you are only two feet behind the other car, you can tell when you move a foot in relationship to it, if you are 100 feet away, your position may have to change by 40 feet or more before you realize it. With goggles, you definitely want to be close so you can tell if you are moving in relation to the other aircraft. You don't want a huge closure rate to sneak up on you.

I assume there were only two aircraft involved in the formation, which makes it easier — the more aircraft you have, the more difficult it gets. When you have numerous aircraft, a very small change by the lead aircraft can result in a huge change by the trail aircraft — the accordion effect. These aircraft fly these type of missions safely every night. In this case, one of the crews may have been distracted by a caution light or another emergency. I personally had an engine fail on a Black Hawk while flying night-vision goggles in a formation, carrying a sling load. I was chalk two in a flight of three. I can tell you your attention can quickly be diverted and for a second or two, you forget you have other aircraft around you. Your attention totally goes toward your aircraft and your problem.

Vertigo is another problem crews sometime experience using goggles. The goggles only have a 40-degree field of view. It's like flying looking through a toilet paper roll. You have to constantly move your head. This can lead to serious cases of vertigo. The trail crew may have experienced this or the lead crew may have done something unexpected and the trail crew did not have time to react to it. There are a number of optical illusions that a crew can experience at night. It would just be impossible to try and guess what happened from the information I've seen.

I can say that the goggles are a tremendous tool. Night provides concealment for the combat helicopter aviators. Goggles allow night flight to be performed at the altitudes necessary better than any other technology currently available in the field.

When did you leave the Army?

I resigned my commission on July 15, 1990 — 18 days before Desert Shield — and went to work for Marion County Sheriff's office in Florida. I was hired as a pilot but the sheriff sold the helicopter before I got through the academy. I worked undercover in street crimes unit and then went to uniformed patrol. We didn't do a lot of prisoner transport, and when we did we rented planes.

We flew Aileen Wournos in a Piper Archer. She was notorious at the time as the only female serial killer in the USA. She has since been convicted of killing five men over a short period of time in central Florida. I believe she still is in the appeals process but she has been sentenced to the death penalty in Florida. All of her victims had been located except one. She was brought from Broward County, in south Florida, to Ocala, in central Florida, to try and describe where the remaining victim was located. I wasn't in on the detective part of this case, but she apparently thought that she would be able to find the victim if she could just return to that area.

Myself, another deputy pilot, a female guard and Aileen Wournos met at the airport the following morning. The general feeling among the flight crew was that this person had absolutely no reason not interfere with the crew if she got the chance. Of course we wanted her cooperation so that the victim's family could find some closure, but we didn't want to be stupid, so it was decided that Ms. Wournos would remain shackled during the entire flight. The flight crew was not in uniform but we were armed.

Everything seemed to go pretty well until our passenger decided it was time to go to the bathroom and if we didn't land in just a few minutes, she could not hold it. We found a strip somewhere around the Vidalia, Ga., area, as best as I can recall. I do remember that there was only one locked building on the field. The guard and the prisoner retreated to a thicket of woods from which they both returned, amazingly enough.

The other victim was not located and we returned Ms. Wournos to Broward County that night. We flew over Disney World just as the fireworks went off. It's an amazing sight, even when you have a serial killer in the backseat.

Did you transport any other interesting criminals?

  Dave and his first observer, Deputy Ed Mobley preflight a Hughes 500D, 1991
My phone rang about 10 o'clock one night on a rare day off and it was the sheriff — not necessarily a good sign. One of our neighboring counties had a kidnapping homicide. The suspects had just been involved in a shootout in Mississippi and their investigators needed to get to the suspects ASAP. I pointed out the sheriff that we did not own any aircraft and we didn't have access to the rentals at that late hour but I would see what I could do. I had a friend at a neighboring sheriff's office that owned a Seneca, and he agreed to pick me up. The plan was to arrive at our neighboring county at about midnight, pickup the investigators and travel on to Mississippi. After a brief interview and an opportunity given to the crew to rest, the flight proceeded back home with one of the suspects on board. The suspect confessed and took the investigators to the location of the victim. I felt liked we helped the family get some closure on this one.

The Sheriff's office then bought a new MD500 helicopter and went to flying full time. I helped develop the new unit and bring it on line.

Tell us about the FLIR [Forward Looking InfraRed] award that you won.

We got the award for a chase that occurred in the spring of 1995. It started when a deputy pulled up behind a car in a known drug area. The deputy approached the car and saw what he believed to be crack cocaine on the seat. He ordered the driver out of the car. The driver reached for the gear selector and the deputy reached inside to stop him. Too late. The suspect dragged the deputy for about 40 feet as I remember. We were in the air and the description of the car was distinctive — a 1991 Caprice Classic pulling a trailer with a lawn mower on it — and we found it in just a few minutes. Ground units were called in and the chase was on. He proceeded from one town to another. The county sheriff's office and at least two different city PDs were involved at one time or another. We caught it all on tape from the helicopter's FLIR system. The chase actually started during the day, but it didn't end until it was dark.

The suspect was passing a line of traffic and the car in the front of the line was turning left in front of the suspect. They had a pretty bad collision. But our suspect was not through. He bailed out of the car, ran across a pretty good-sized field, jumped a couple of fences and hid in a thicket. We could not see the suspect in the night sun but we could see him on the FLIR.

The first deputy to respond to the scene did not have a radio. He was looking around within a few feet of the suspect but he could not see him. Since he did not have a radio, he couldn't hear our directions to him. It makes for a cute video with this deputy standing within three feet of what he's looking for and not finding it. Another deputy did arrive with a radio and we talked him to the suspect for the arrest.

Tell us about some of the bad guys you've chased.

It's kind of funny watching a suspect run on foot when you are chasing him with a helicopter. I'm not sure what they are thinking.

We had a carjacking take place. We were on a static display of the aircraft when the call came in. As soon as we got the college students back a safe distance, we cranked and left. One of the road supervisors happened to locate the vehicle and turned on his blue lights as he rounded a corner, then suspect decided to head on the patrol vehicle. No one was seriously hurt but the suspect driver bailed out and ran. We arrived overhead just as the head on occurred.

The suspect began to run and started looking over his shoulder, he'd run some more and look at the aircraft again. You could tell he was getting really frustrated with all of this. He eventually dove through a row of bushes and came out into a parking lot. He ran around the same building three times, looking at the aircraft in disgust most of the way. Little did he know, the building he was running around was the regional headquarters for one of our state law enforcement agencies. An officer came outside to see what the helo was doing and the suspect rounded the corner on his third trip around. The officer took quick action and arrested the suspect.

One of the funniest suspect searches we had came as a result of a sexual battery call if I remember correctly. We responded on a call out to the scene. It was day time and the ground units had a pretty good perimeter set up. We began the search while we waited for the K-9 unit to arrive. We worked well together. The aircraft generally made to suspect hide, the K-9 could track right to them since they were no longer fleeing. In this case, we saw which way the K-9 was tracking and just headed off at a slow airspeed, tree top level over this wooded area. I saw something that looked like a small piece of material in the top of the tree. We turned around and there set our suspect, in the top of a tree covered in Spanish moss. Not a bad idea but it didn't work.

And how about the searches and rescues.

  Dave passes the torch to his daughter Bethany in a C-172. Photo was taken by Dave's son Lance, 2000
Florida has a large elderly population, and we worked a lot of searches for missing and overdue elderly people. Most of them had Alzheimer's and had wandered off. One case was of an elderly gentlemen, I believe in his 80s. He did not have Alzheimer's but he was missing. He had left his residence the day before. This also occurred in a neighboring county that did not have an aircraft. They searched for about 22 hours and could not find the victim.

It was hot, highs in the 90s, and they started to get very concerned. Our assistance was requested. We landed at the police department headquarters and picked up an officer who knew the area. He had some places that had been searched by ground that they wanted to look at from the air. The second place we the victims van was spotted. He had driven off of the road, through some trees and the van had become stuck. The victim was unable to walk so he had stayed with the van. After we landed, we approached the van — not expecting to find the best — but he was alive. We carried the victim from the van to the helicopter and had him at the hospital in less than an hour from when we began our search. Doctors said he only had a little time to live due to dehydration. He later stated that he had heard the ground search going on nearby but his horn did not work and he couldn't call out for help. Things like that make it worthwhile.

I was hired as the Chief Pilot for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Agency in 1995. They are a tremendous conservation agency. The flying with them was great. We worked the entire state of Florida, from the keys up through the Everglades and on up into the panhandle region. Some of the most beautiful sights you could imagine. Most of our efforts were related to conservation efforts both through law enforcement efforts and through research efforts. One of the most interesting things you could ever witness from the air is the collection of alligator eggs.

The state of Florida allows vendors, under the direction of Fish and Wildlife, to collect alligator eggs. Those eggs are hatched and raised and that is where the majority of your gator tail and alligator skin brief cases come from. Through the success of management programs, all of the gators cannot be allowed to hatch in the wild. We would fly lakes as directed by the biologist looking for alligator nests. They are very hard to see from the surface but from the air they look like big mounds of mud in an otherwise vegetated area. We would direct these vendors in their air boat towards these nests.

This is done is late June and early July. This water obviously has a huge, probably mad, alligator in it, along with numerous water snakes. These guys would jump out of their air boat, get on top of the nest, break it open, take the eggs and get back in their air boat. No one has ever been seriously hurt doing this. As the agency covering the wild areas of Florida, we also did a tremendous amount of search and rescue, both over the ocean and gulf and the inland areas. I took an early retirement from Fish and Wildlife to pursue other interests.

What are you doing now?

I'm currently working with lots of other people to develop a some sort of recognition process for airborne law enforcement units. The vast majority of airborne law enforcement units are very professional and do a tremendous job of protecting the public. We are trying to develop a standard by which those units can be recognized. The idea is to recognize those professional units which already exist, and those that are starting out and are headed in the right direction, to give them a goal to reach. It's a long way from being completed and it is very difficult to cut a new trail but I think this is a very worthwhile project that may save some police officer's life some day.

If you or someone you know has an interesting aviation story to tell, please send an Email to Joe Godfrey.