ROCKFORD - Air One, the Stateline's volunteer helicopter organization, has recently been accepted into the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. This means they are getting funds to help update their equipment and spend time training for natural disasters.
Air One gets called out for any type of air support needed in our area, and aside from having the highest standards for safety and flight time for pilots, they've also become nationally recognized for how they train and operate as a volunteer outfit.
"Being able to help out, whether it's looking for a missing person or try to help other officers with another department apprehend a subject that they're searching for," said Stephenson County Sheriff Deputy James Norton. Norton volunteers with Air One.
The main helicopter used by Air One is stored at
"We got called out for an armed robbery," said Norton. "Officers saw a person run into a yard, set up a perimeter, and called us out."
Norton quickly got suited up and took off with Air One, using the high-tech equipment on board they were able to help police on the ground."
"We were able to locate a heat source that we couldn't identify in some bushes," said Norton.
That's thanks to the powerful infrared equipment attached the air craft. In pitch black conditions it makes any heat source look as bright as day.
"And it turned out to be the guy that they were looking for," said Norton.
Using the infrared, Norton was able to guide fellow officers to the suspect to make the arrest.
"Without us being able to see the heat source, we would have never been able to see him from the air without the thermal camera," said Norton.
Air One was also called into action to help in the manhunt for Kody Walsh, the man wanted and later arrested in connection for shooting and killing a woman last summer.
"What we were trying to do was contain him within a one mile square," said Air One chief pilot Randy Olson. "So, officers could go in with their dogs try to locate the suspect."
The main helicopter used by Air One is equipped with a 30-million candle-watt power Night Sun, as well as an infrared camera, to help police track those they're looking for on the ground.
"Once we find them," said Olson. "We can light the whole block up, that way law enforcement officers can come in make the arrest or do what they have to do."
Being able to use the Night Sun and infrared greatly increase the odds of a successful police presence on the ground. Making Air One a critical resource for local police agencies, and a labor of love for the volunteers that make the helicopter unit possible.
"It's the best job in the world, can't beat it," said Olson.
The group trains every two weeks to make sure they're prepared for any type of call they receive.