Pinellas law enforcement using helicopter flight simulator to increase safety

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At any given time, day or night, law enforcement officers are in the air over the Bay Area It can be a dangerous job.

Dozens of first responders have been killed in helicopter crashes across the country, with bad weather being the biggest danger.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times, when people need our help weather conditions are not ideal," says Sgt. Bryan Smith, chief pilot at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

But now, Smith and his fellow aviation deputies are learning how to fly safer using a new flight simulator.

"We can actually dial in those extremely dangerous weather conditions and practice flying in them and responding to it," says Smith.

The machine generates a virtual image of Pinellas County, complete with buildings, bridges, and waterways, and can change weather conditions or simulate mechanical malfunctions.

"We can't do that in the aircraft," says Smith. "I can do that in the simulator and do it over and over again."

If the pilot handles the situation incorrectly, the machine simulates a crash. They simply reset the machine and try again until the pilot learns how to deal with the emergency. 

Smith says the cost of the simulator was around $40,000. He says the extra safety for aviation deputies is priceless.