Chuck Perriguey

Chuck Perriguey figured his days of taking fire in a helicopter were over when he finished his Vietnam tour in 1969. But on February 27, 1997, two escaping bank robbers in full body armor fired armor-piercing rounds from their AK-47s at his LAPD helicopter over North Hollywood. He spent the next 40 minutes helping position SWAT teams on the ground while dodging bullets and news helicopters in the air, and earned LAPD's Medal of Valor. In this month's Profile, AVweb's Joe Godfrey talks with Officer Perriguey about flying Hueys in Vietnam, his 25 years in the air support division of the LAPD, and his six years as president of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association.


Chuck PerrigueyCharles Perriguey, Jr. was born inGlendale, Calif. and grew up in nearby San Gabriel. He had only flown once on anairliner when he enlisted in the Marines after high school. He trained at NASPensacola in fixed-wing aircraft, then the Marines offered him the chance to flyhelicopters and he took it. In Vietnam he flew Sea Stallions and Hueys, acted asa forward air controller and earned a Purple Heart. In 1972, after his servicetour, he joined the LAPD. For three years he worked the streets, then in 1975 heswitched to the air support division. He’s just finishing his 25th year oftrailing suspects and keeping ground-based officers out of harm’s way.

On February 27th, 1997, Chuck had just begun his airborne shift when he hearda radio call about a bank robbery in North Hollywood. He arrived on the scene astwo bank robbers in full body armor exited the building and tried to shoot theirway out of the neighborhood. For about 40 minutes Officer Perriguey helpedposition SWAT teams on the ground while dodging bullets and news helicopters inthe air. One suspect committed suicide and SWAT teams shot the other one. Forhis actions that day Chuckand 18 other officers earned the LAPD’s Medal of Valor. Chuck also justfinished six years as president of the AirborneLaw Enforcement Association. When he arrived at ALEA he found anorganization on the brink of failure. When he left last year, the organizationhad money in the bank and a strong board of directors to keep it going.

How did you get interested in flying?

I graduated high school during the Vietnam era, a lot of my friends weregoing into the service, and I enlisted in the Marines. I went to MCRD San Diegoand about halfway through boot camp I was asked "Would you like to try andbe a Marine Corps pilot?" I was approached based on an aptitude test that Ihad taken prior to boot camp. I said "Sure, why not?" So they sent meto Los Alamitos, which at that time was a Naval Auxiliary airfield. I had abattery of written tests in the morning and early afternoon, and an interviewthat afternoon, and I was accepted for what was known as MARCAT — MarineAviation Cadet.

Had you flown up to that point?

Not at all. I had been on a commercial airliner, but nothing in terms ofsmaller airplanes or getting flight lessons. My dad was part owner of a foundryduring WWII. He was drafted three times and excused three times, due to thecritical nature of his work. My grandfather had four sons, and only one of thefour sons actually saw any military time, so military life was not a big part ofour family, on either the maternal or paternal side.

After being accepted and signing all the paperwork I got back on a bus andwent back to boot camp. From there I went to Camp Pendleton, and was put in agroup to begin OCS training. As fate would have it, in the summer of ’66 theMARCAT program was discontinued. So I had to reapply for the EnlistedCommissioning Program, and in August of ’66 I went to Quanitco, Virginia, whereall Marine officers go for primary training. I graduated as a Second Lieutenant,and spent another six months there at "basic" school. Then I went toPensacola for 18 months of pilot training, which is where all Navy, Marine, andCoast Guard pilots train. I flew the T-34 and the T-28. I got about 120 hours inthose aircraft, then started flying the TH13M, which was a piston-enginehelicopter like the [Bell] 47G. After about 40 or 50 hours in the TH13 I movedto the CH-34 — the civilian equivalent is the [Sikorsky] S-58. In August of ’68I passed, got my wings and went to New River, North Carolina and transitionedinto the CH-46. That took until December of ’68, then I went to Vietnam. When Igot there I got an opportunity to join a UH-1 squadron, and I had always wantedto fly the Huey. So I did that transition in country.

Then I was reassigned as a forward air controller to the 2nd Battallion, 4thMarines, who were stationed in the DMZ up near the border, and for the next 100days I called air strikes and targets for the B-52 drops — what they called"arclights" — and I got to call in Naval gunfire and artillerygunfire, so it was a pretty interesting tour. It was quite active in the DMZ,and we did some creative things, too. We worked with A6s with what they calledCPQ, which was high-altitude, all-weather bombing. We had a transponder with usin the field and we would brief the pilots on our location and elevation, andthe offset from us to the target and the target’s elevation. They would plugthat into their computer and acquire our transponder, and the computer wouldcalculate the release point for the bomb to hit the target.

It sounds pretty primitive. How accurate was it?

Very accurate. Sometimes we’d drop one bomb, make some adjustments, and hitit the second time. We combined that system with regular bombing missions. Atnight, the Vietnamese would use the light from the fires that the bombs weremaking to move. We could see them, then we could call in more air strikes. Afterthat 100 days I went back to flying gunships, and support missions for somespecial operations people. During one of those I received the Silver Star andthe Purple Heart.

What earned the Purple Heart?

I got in the way of some rocket-propelled grenades. They were shooting at us,we were shooting back, and the shrapnel from two or three of their RPGs enteredthe cockpit and hit me in the arm. The injury wasn’t that big of a deal. A fewBand-Aids and I was back at it. We wound up landing and picking up the people onthe ground that we were there to support — which we normally wouldn’t do — wewere just a gunship. But when it was time to pick them up we were the only onesthere, so we picked them up.

How was morale when you were there?

Morale was still good at the end of ’69. We had good missions every day. TheMarine Corps was taking draftees, but in the aviation community the people hadgood jobs, and for the most part they kept their noses clean and did their jobs.We didn’t see the narcotics and some of the other crimes that were going on.

Back stateside I was based at MCAS Tustin, where I flew the H-46. My lasttour before going off active duty was on special staff with the Wing CommandingGeneral. I was involved in morale, trying to find recreational activities andcampsites for enlisted Marines in the wing. After I left active duty I stayedaffiliated with the reserves and flew in a reserve CH-46 squadron, and had toursof duty assigned to group staff, and a couple of assignments attached to 3rdANGLICO — Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company — because of my background with theinfantry.

One of those tours was a two-week stint in January, 1985 in Fairbanks,Alaska, on a multi-nation training exercise. It was fifteen years after myVietnam experience, and I was back in the field again, but this time I wascontrolling a whole new generation of aircraft; A-10s and some of the moresophisticated strike fighter aircraft in the inventory. I made it up toLieutenant Colonel in the flying squadron and was the squadron executiveofficer, then I had some medical problems and had to drop out of the program. Igot off active duty in November of ’71, and in January of ’72 I joined the LAPD.

Did you join with an eye toward flying?


I did. I knew that I had some experience and I knew that LAPD had an airunit. It was about a third if the size it is now. I joined knowing that therewas a good chance that the air unit would grow. But I also knew that if aviationdidn’t work out that the department was big enough that there were lots ofopportunities for other specialties. I went through the academy and was assignedto a patrol division at 77th Street station in south central Los Angeles. Thenin November of ’75 I transferred to the Air Support division.

That’s a competitive process. There’s an oral interview, they look at yourflight experience, and examine when kind of police officer you’ve been. Some ofthe candidates were ex-military pilots, and some were ex-airline pilots that hadjoined LAPD. In that competition I was lucky enough to make #1 on the list.

Is there a flight test?

No. It’s all ground-based. They do ask aviation questions but they don’t takeyou up for a ride.

I got my command pilot wings in January of 1976, and I’ve been with the unitever since. This is the end of my 25th year. My assignments have been as a linepilot, division safety coordinator — I had that job for ten years — specialprojects coordinator off and on for six or seven years. I’ve also been thedivision adjutant, which is kind of like a chief of staff.

I’ve flown both our basic patrol mission which is called ASTRO — Air SupportTo Regular Operations — and our discrete surveillance operation. We have amilitary surplus Huey that we use with our SWAT team, our bomb teams and ourcanine teams. Because of my military background I’m one of the command pilotsfor the Huey. We have an airplane — a King Air 200 — but I’m not involved inthat part of the operation.

Let me interrupt your train of thought. Will the law regarding militarysurplus aircraft that’s making its way through Congress effect military surplusaircraft used in law enforcement?


I’ve been a member of the Airborne LawEnforcement Association for the 25 years I’ve been in LAPD’s Air Support. Igot active on the Board in the mid-’80s, went on the Board in the late-’80s, andserved for six years as the president. The ALEA’s position — and my personalposition — is that we need access to that type of equipment but we want theequipment to be certified and safe for flight. We want it maintained to acertain protocol, and we want the pilots that operate the equipment to becertified pilots within the FAA system.

Unfortunately — and this is my language — the FAA has abrogated theirresponsibility to ensure safety in the skies of the United States because theyare aware of, and refuse to act on, the fact that military surplus aircraft inthe hands of local government can be operated without any maintenance and can beoperated by pilots that have no certificates. I find that abhorrent.

The ALEA has asked that the FAA get off the dime and get a set of reasonablerules in place that will allow those aircraft to be operated under Part 91,where all other airborne law enforcement operate, with very few exceptions. TheFBI, Customs, the Marshall’s office, and all state and local all operate underPart 91. Most pilots in airborne law enforcement are commercially rated, whetherthey’re airplane or helicopter drivers, and most airplanes are certificated.

The percentage of military surplus aircraft in law enforcement is small, butit needs to be addressed. We’re asking for a maintenance protocol. We think theFAA should adopt the maintenance manuals that those aircraft used when inservice in the military, or adopt other protocols that are mutually agreeable.There’s at least one set of those protocols that were developed through ICAP— the Interagency Committee on Aviation Policy.

The factory — Bell helicopter — was participating in training in thoseaircraft, and that was working out, until the FAA said Part 61.45 precludes youfrom doing that. Now we’re not able to train in those military surplus aircraftto acquire pilot certificates, and we’re scratching our heads to figure out why.And it winds up costing local government more money.

What special hardware and software would we find in an LAPD helicopter?

We have GPS navigation for the pilot, and in LAPD aircraft the moving-mapvendor has installed a GPS-based Thomas street guide. We have street maps forall of southern California, plus sectionals for the entire U.S. When we get acall the tactical flight officer types in the street address. Let’s say there’sa burglary in progress at, say 123 West 3rd Street. The TFO types that in andgets the Thomas guide page for that address, with a bipper pointed at theaddress. Pushing another button gives you a sidebar with heading and distance totarget, and arrival time based on your current airspeed.

Let’s say that between you and that target lies a big chunk of the LAClass B.

If we can’t fly a straight line we’ll deviate, but we are able to fly inquite a bit of the Class B surface area, as long as we don’t get too close toLAX under the approach paths to the two complexes. They know where our normalpatrol areas are in the surface area and we can get clearance into it andmonitor their frequencies, and if they need us to move we do. If we need to getclose in, under the glideslope, we’ll request it; sometimes we get it, sometimeswe don’t. If we’re involved in a pursuit near LAX, we get frustrated sometimesthat we can’t follow it, but we know they’re not going to divert arrivingcommercial flights, so we do the best we can.

We have a very good relationship with all the local TRACONs. We take them upon flights and show them how we work and where we’re flying in proximity totheir system. A good example of that is the North Hollywood bank shootout.Burbank tower was controlling that airspace and they were very cooperative withmy needs for separation.

How did that day begin for you?

It was an unusual day. My normal reporting time was 9:30 in the morning, andthat particular day I was scheduled to report at 7:30 and fly an early shiftthat takes off at 9:00. And I was only scheduled for one flight that day, andnormally I’d fly two. And I normally worked the central part of Los Angeles, andthat day I was scheduled to work the west. It’s not that I wasn’t familiar withthe area or the time of day, but they were different from my normal assignment.

I was working with my regular partner, who was a reserve police officertraining to become a tactical flight officer. About five minutes after we tookoff we heard the initial broadcast of a possible bank robbery in progress, andit took us about eight minutes to get there. Flying there we heard that thesuspects were heavily armed, an unknown number of suspects, and that they wereinside the bank.

Just as we arrived the suspects came out of the bank and started shooting. Wegot down low to look in the door to see where the suspects were, and theystarted shooting at us. The was the beginning of about a 40-minute scenariothat saw them eventually leave the entrance of the bank and walk around to thenorth parking lot, and that’s where you see them in the video. We could see theofficers that were wounded, we could see other officers that were shooting atthe suspects, we could see the suspects shooting at those officers and at us.

How high were you?

I like to say I used all acceptable patrol altitudes for the sake of my job.I couldn’t go too high, because we had a lot of media helicopters. I almost raninto one of them, who got too wrapped up in the event and forgot about flyingduties. So we stayed pretty busy dodging bullets, ENG [electronic newsgathering] helicopters, talking to Burbank and the other officers.

How high can an AK47 bullet fly?.

It can go up to 1,500 feet at lethal velocity. And when that bullet comesdown it’s traveling at terminal velocity, so it can enter the aircraft and killyou. I had a round come down into the aircraft one New Years Eve. It enteredthrough the top and exited the bottom. We didn’t take any hits that day overNorth Hollywood. Only one aircraft did, and it happened to be the aircraft thatalmost hit us.

We were there for about 15 minutes, watching them shoot at us and others,before it was discovered that they were using armor-piercing rounds. I alreadyknew whatever they were shooting at us wouldn’t have any trouble penetrating thethin skin of the aircraft, but that fact did make a difference on how we weredeploying officers on the ground.

Then as the suspects split up and started walking I had to fly a longelliptical orbit to keep both of them in sight. The first suspect committedsuicide not far from the bank. Then we could concentrate on the other suspectand eventually our SWAT team was able to get a shot. After that we stayed in thearea for another fifteen minutes because we thought there might be othersuspects in the bank or in the neighborhood. That was based on the initial callthat there were three or four suspects, and on reports from people calling insaying ‘We can see them running in the neighborhood.’

Hours later we figured out that what they had seen were police officers, whowere in all sorts of get-ups. The SWAT officers that eventually took down thesuspect were wearing shorts, because they were at the academy working out whenthe call came and they didn’t have time to get into their SWAT attire.

Then we had to make some public address announcements to people that werecoming out of their houses.

Were you the only LAPD helicopter in the air?

There was another unit in the downtown area. They asked if they could help,but the sky was already so busy with all the ENG people and I thought it wouldbe safer if we kept them out of there.

Let’s talk about the First Amendment. What’s the relationship between theLAPD and the news helicopters?

We know most of the pilots that are flying those aircraft. We have meetingsand discuss the situation, and I think we consider ourselves friends. We’re allpilots, we love to fly, it’s our profession, and we have that in common.Unfortunately we have different masters that dictate how we act, and the newsgatherers have news directors that need to get "the shot." Ourperception is that when the pilot becomes an on-air personality, talking to theaudience, describing the action, maybe watching the TV monitor in the aircraft,that pilot is no longer devoting enough attention to flying the aircraft. Andwhen they’re not on the air, they may be talking to the newsroom about whenthey’re going live, arranging the shot, and their attention is not oncommunications and collision avoidance. That’s the biggest problem.

So we’ve had meetings and established communications protocols for ENGarrivals at a law enforcement or fire incidents and following those protocolshas helped. Nobody is signed to them, there’s no obligation in the FARs tocomply with them, but generally we get good cooperation. Unfortunately, we arein the process of filing with the FAA on a pilot with one of the local newschannels who almost had a collision with one of our aircraft who was lawfullyover a pursuit. So it’s an ongoing problem, and we don’t want to have abloodbath before some agreement is reached.

We had a midair in the ’60s with a traffic reporter that involved fivefatalities, and that’s when we began using 123.025 as a collision-avoidancefrequency, and that’s still in use. If you monitor that frequency you’ll hear alot that isn’t related to collision avoidance, and LAPD is one of the bigviolators of that. We talk cops and robbers on the frequency and we shouldn’t.It’s really for collision avoidance and all of the local entities are working toclean it up. Since we started using the frequency in the ’60s we’ve had only onemidair, and that was on a handoff between two agencies over a pursuit. But therecord is pretty good.

Would TCAS or TCAD help with collision avoidance or are you too close?

We use TCAD, and the first iteration — made by Ryan — gave us distance andvertical separation, but not azimuth. The second generation gives us azimuth,too, and we’re installing it in all of our aircraft. The pilot has completecontrol of when the alarm goes off. You create a bubble around the aircraft —it may be a mile and a half, or three miles, or five — or you create a verticalseparation limit, and if everybody’s got their transponders on, hopefully youcan get the alert and avoid a problem.

What are your weather minimums?


A ceiling of 800 feet and 2 miles visibility. We can fly in less than that isit’s required for an extreme police emergency. We don’t fly in the clouds. Ouraircraft aren’t certified for it, most of our pilots aren’t rated for it, and wehave to be able to see the ground to do our job.

Were you flying during the 1992 riots?

On the first day I was at the command center acting as air liaison betweenthe incident commander and our division, because of my background in that area.Desert Storm had occurred prior to the riots, and it struck me and most of thepilots that the sky looked like the sky over Kuwait. The smoke from the fireswould go up to a certain altitude and flatten out, and it looked like the smokefrom the oil fires.

Were you flying during the OJ chase?

I worked earlier that day, but by then I was home watching it on TV, glad Iwasn’t anywhere near it.

When you get involved in a pursuit, do you take over?

Our division is called Air Support Division, and that’s the key. We’re asupport entity within the department. The vehicle code doesn’t allow helicoptersto pursue cars, so we don’t take over, but we inform the primary unit that weare overhead and can assist. If the pursuit becomes too dangerous for the groundunits, they can back off knowing that we will track them — observe what theydo. When they stop we’ll set up a perimeter and coordinate a search effort to goand arrest them.

Sometimes we’ll put a second air unit on a pursuit, so the TFO in the loweraircraft would be coordinating the pursuit on the radio and the TFO in thehigher aircraft might be naming streets as they come up. In that case the pilotof the higher aircraft would get any airspace clearances that we might need —as a flight of two — and coordinating with any media ships in the air. Thatfrees the pilot in the low ship to really concentrate on giving the rightperspective to the TFO in the low ship.

Besides the street map, what other special equipment is on board?

The FLIR [forward-looking infrared] is fantastic. We first got them in thelate ’80s, and now we’re starting what would be considered the third generationof what’s available to the civilian market. The military systems are moresophisticated, but they cost over a million dollars. What we use is in the$150,000 to $200,000 range, and it’s great for what we use it for. If a person’shiding under a stack of leaves, or leaning against a wall in a toolshed, or if acar has been driven recently, we can usually see a heat source. Sometimes aground unit that has lost a car in a neighborhood will call us and we can seeall the hot cars and point them out to the ground unit.

Our searchlight is 30 million candlepower. We used to have telephones and I’mnot sure we’re going to have them in our new aircraft. We could use the phone tocall the people who called the police and get more details on the suspects. Wehave a dual radio system and each radio can access every frequency used inpublic service, at the local, state and federal level.

We have a public address and siren system. We can use the siren late at nightto wake people up when we discover a fire. We can also use it in a pursuit toblast an intersection up ahead to bring traffic to a stop. We can use the lightfor that, too.

We also have a LoJack tracking device. We don’t endorse the system, but theygave the trackers to the department — both the cars and the helicopters — andwe do recover a lot of cars with it. LoJack’s statistics show that about 35% ofthe cars are recovered using aircraft.

How much flying do you do in a typical day?

We report for an eight-hour day, plus a 30-minute lunch period. During thattime we would fly 2.2 hours, then refuel, do some paperwork, relax, then flyanother 2.2. You’re usually working a call at the end of the 2.2, so by the timeyou wrap up it’s 2.3 or 2.4, so we’re in the air almost 5 hours a day. We don’thave autopilots or stabilization equipment, so it’s hands-on flying.

Do you have a favorite helicopter?

Because of my Vietnam experience I have an affinity to the Huey. I spent alot of time in the CH-46. I’ve got a lot of Jet Ranger time, a lot of A-Startime, and some 407 time. We’re using the American Eurocopter A-Star 350B2. Until1989 we were completely a Bell operation, then we moved to the A-Star, then backto Bell, and back the A-Star. I think we’ll probably stick with the A-Star for awhile. No helicopter is perfect for every situation, but the A-Star gives useverything we need and a platform to do the mission that we do.

When you joined LAPD there was no guarantee that you would get to fly. Hasthat changed?

That’s still the policy, and it’s the policy for most law enforcementorganizations. Once in a while CHP [California Highway Patrol] will hire a pilotand put them through the academy for six months before they transfer to the airunit. For a while the Baltimore Police Department would hire a pilot off thestreet and put them into police training. But most agencies require that youhave some field experience with that department before you go into the air unit.Our department requires five years with LAPD, with three years recent fieldexperience. We’ve got officers with ten, fifteen, maybe twenty years experienceon the department before they come to the air unit.

I’ve got over 28 years LAPD experience and maybe the TFO sitting next to mehas fifteen years. That’s 43 years of police experience. I’ve got 25 years inair support, maybe the TFO has another five or ten, so we’ve got over 30 yearsof airborne law enforcement experience; handling priority radio calls, directingpolice cars, keeping them out of trouble, and helping to put the bad guy injail.

The officers on the ground — between the two of them — may have four orfive years experience. So when all that experience overhead suggests that theyturn right at the next corner to get the suspect, they usually turn right at thenext corner. I think most police officers that have four or five years on thejob can tell you that the air crew has saved them from getting killed orseriously injured because of the way they’ve been deployed by the air crew.