Highway Patrol Aircraft & Aviation
The Highway Patrol currently owns and operates a Cessna T206 aircraft for various missions to assist troopers on the ground.
The aircraft is equipped with forward looking infrared (FLIR). This technology allows the pilot and tactical flight officer to conduct search missions at night. The aircraft help enforce ground traffic laws like speeding, no passing zone violations, stop signs and reckless driving. The pilot also assists the motor carrier troopers by locating trucks that are by-passing scale sites.
Over the years, the aviation section has contributed to searching for and assisting in the apprehension of criminal suspects; observation reports during times of natural disasters; transportation of blood, medical supplies, and rabid animals; aerial photography of accident and criminal scenes; monitoring vehicle pursuits; searching for lost people and transporting tactical team members to hostage situations.
The Highway Patrol's aviation section began in the early 1960s when a highway patrol pilot utilized a stop watch to time vehicles over a known distance to derive a speed. In 1973, the Highway Patrol leased a Piper Super Cub to work in conjunction with Selective Enforcement Teams (STEP) for traffic law enforcement.
Eventually the successes of the STEP program led the Highway Patrol to purchase a used Cessna 182 Skylane to respond faster to emergency situations and permit better communication. In 1981, the older aircraft was replaced with a new Cessna 182 Skylane RG.
Toward the end of the 1980s, the aircraft section began assisting with counter drug operations including marijuana identification for the purposes of spray eradication or investigation of cultivated gardens for prosecution.
In 1995, the section acquired an OH-58C Bell helicopter. The helicopter is used for marijuana eradication programs, emergency relays, natural disasters, aerial photography, criminal apprehension, search and rescue operations and motor carrier enforcement. The Highway Patrol retired the helicopter from active duty in 2016.
In 1996, a Cessna 310 was requisitioned by the Highway Patrol. It once belonged to Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. In 2003, the Cessna was turned over to the South Dakota Department of Transportation and has since been sold. In 2007, the Highway Patrol sold the Cessna 182 RG and purchased a used 2004 Cessna T206 to replace it.