When the majority of New Yorkers head to work in the morning, they either turn the ignition key in their car or step onto a rumbling MTA subway carriage or bus — but Royston Charles, Michael Carr and Brian Worthington have no need for roads to do their jobs.
These three men suit up in harnesses, don helmets, and step aboard an NYPD helicopter. Their office is the city skyline, and their business is dealing with some of New York’s greatest emergencies.
From using thermal vision to detect criminals on the lam and making daring rescues involving those facing life threatening danger, the NYPD Aviation Unit has and continues to see it all. But the road to the life-saving dramatics within the expansive blue vista above was paved with hard work and a lifelong passion for all three aviators.
“I grew up in a housing development in Queens. So, you know, I was one of those kids that thought I would never be a police officer,” Brian Worthington told amNewYork Metro, standing under the tail of a chopper in Floyd Bennett Field. Reflecting on a life that led from childhood troubles to the military, and ultimately into the NYPD, Worthington recalled the catalyst to a life in the sky.
“I used to live not too far away from LaGuardia Airport. So, I would see the planes take off and land and I would wonder how those things would stay in the sky? Where are these people going? I want to do this too, I just didn’t know it was accessible,” Worthington added.
Without knowledge of how to become a pilot, he garnered a position loading planes at JFK Airport before joining the national guard where he found himself jumping from aircrafts. While Worthington longed for the sky from an early age, Michael Carr had a very different beginning to his journey.
While Carr suited up, he admitted that from a young age he was actually scared of flying, that was until the time came when he stepped into an aircraft as a teen for a family vacation.
“I got on the plane, and I was like this is not so bad. Matter of fact, I want the window seat. This is cool. Yeah. And when we got back from that trip, I just, I don’t know, I started studying airplanes and aviation and got hooked. And at some point, very shortly after I decided, I think this is what I want to do in life and pursued it,” Carr said.
Starting the engines
Royston Charles shares his colleagues’ childhood passion, yearning for the thrill of the sky from a young age. As the pilot sat in the cockpit and placed a helmet inscribed with the letters NYPD onto his head, it was clear he not only loves his job but also the responsibility that comes along with it.
“We’re the eye in the sky. We get a perspective that the cops on the ground don’t really get,” Charles explained.
In order to show rather than simply tell, the three pilots took amNewYork Metro out on a patrol over the city. Opening the gigantic warehouse doors that hold the helicopters in Floyd Bennett Field, the officers transported one of the aircrafts onto the landing strip.
The officers explained that the chopper is equipped with a special camera that can zoom so far it can see license plates and use thermal imaging technology to spot those attempting to evade detection.
“We had a job a couple of months ago, it was a domestic incident, he ran from the cops and into a backyard. We were able to use the thermal imaging cameras. He was hiding in the backyard, and we were able to direct the cops on the ground where he was hiding,” Charles remembered.
Into the sky
Within seconds after the rotors began spinning, the chopper powered into the sky. Leaving the earth, the city below appeared akin to Lego bricks—a surreal miniature. Despite the height, the crew can always see everything. The helicopter’s camera not only displays live footage to those in the cockpit, it also can relay the images to an iPad. Lifting the iPad, Worthington explained that it helps showcase the confines of which precinct they are in, as well as operate night vision.
Whizzing by the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, World Trade Center, Yankee Stadium, Coney Island, and more, amNewYork Metro inquired if the threesome ever gets used to the excitement of seeing one of the most famous cities in the world from an eagle’s eye?
While they admitted it is an incredible sight, they also stressed that the job calls for vigilance and a calm mind, not just for themselves but for their fellow officers and those experiencing a crisis.
“When I go on a radio and guide people in, I try to take a step back and be the voice of calm because they need the voice of calm and when aviation is speaking everybody’s listening because they know you have a vantage point that they don’t, right, so if I can be calm and take a step back and help them,” Carr said.
Even on the ground, when New Yorkers spy a helicopter thousands of feet above, they excitedly point and wave. No matter the age there appears to be something magical about seeing the aircraft dart by. From Liberty Island to Coney Island, the presence of the NYPD chopper seemed to exude a feeling of awe from spectators.
Paying it forward
If saving lives and hurtling around the city wasn’t enough, the pilots also volunteer their time in hopes of ensuring the next generation can make it to the sky, especially Black and Brown aviators. Worthington remembers what it was like to be unaware of how to follow his dream, something he wants to make sure isn’t an issue for today’s youth. It is vital to ensure that representation is seen in all areas of aviation.
“Have you ever gone on an airplane and flew on JetBlue or American Airlines or Delta? How many Black pilots have you seen? Not many, right? So, we need to try to change that dynamic and get more people involved. And one of the reasons why they’re not here. It’s not because they don’t have the skill. It’s not because they cannot do it. It’s because they simply don’t know how to obtain it. My job is to put that out there to allow people to inform individuals that you can do it and here’s the way to do it,” Worthington said.
Charles agreed, believing with all that he does in the sky, there is nothing more important that what he does on the ground with the kids by helping them reach their goal.
“Hopefully one of these kids grows up one day and becomes a pilot and I was able to play a role in that,” Charles said.