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RCIPS Spotlight: Air Operations Unit Continues to Develop Staff & Capabilities

Front Pages 17 Mar, 2022 Follow News

AC Darren McLean

An RCIPS helicopter in flight

Inspector Neil Mohammed

Inspector Neil Mohammed wearing his AOU flight suit

(L-R) Inspector Mohammed, Captain Miller, AC McLean, and Mr. Fitzgerald

The RCIPS Air Operations Unit continues to develop its staff and capabilities in contribution to the Service’s goals of securing the Cayman Islands, ensuring safer communities and delivering a professional police service. The last few months have seen the Unit conduct two overseas deployments to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), the promotion of one of the Unit’s key staff members, and the continued training of the Unit’s first aspiring Caymanian pilot.

Read more about these developments below:


RCIPS Police Helicopter Conducts Successful Deployments to Turks & Caicos Islands

During 2021 – 2022, the RCIPS Air Operations Unit (AOU) completed two successful deployments of an H145 police helicopter and crew to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), where they provided security and stability support to the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RTCIPF) in countering unlawful migration.

The deployments, which lasted for two weeks each, were conducted from 1 to 15 December 2021, and 5 to 19 January 2022, respectively. Over the course of the four weeks, the two crews flew 41 flights, with a total of 75 hours of flying time, and covered an area of 6,500 nautical miles. Most of the operations focused on the southern approaches of TCI and routes to neighbouring Haiti.

“Notably, over the seven-week period, there were no recorded arrivals of any unlawful migrants in TCI,” says Steve Fitzgerald, head of the AOU. “It is clear that the presence of the RCIPS helicopter, which was heavily publicised, successfully served as a deterrent.”

In addition, during the second deployment, the AOU crew provided support for ground operations in TCI, including two firearm operations with the purpose of detaining dangerous suspects.

“This is the first time we have deployed an extended overseas operation, whilst also maintaining full cover in the Cayman Islands,” adds Mr. Fitzgerald. “During the deployments, our crews in Cayman were also able to fully support key operations locally, which just shows the versatility that having the two aircraft allows. And the feedback from our RTCIPF colleagues has also been very positive.”

The deployments were funded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Cayman Islands and United Kingdom Governments in December 2018 to support Overseas Territories disaster management and security, and were approved and endorsed by the Premier and HE The Governor.


Deputy Head of RCIPS Air Operations Unit Promoted to Rank of Inspector

Former Police Sergeant Neil Mohammed, who has served as Training Officer and Deputy Head of RCIPS Air Operations since March 2010, has now been promoted to the rank of Police Inspector.

Inspector Mohammed was one of 11 RCIPS Inspectors who successfully progressed in the promotion process and were officially confirmed in rank during a ceremony on 1 February.

Inspector Mohammed’s current duties with the AOU include managing staff and contracted entities that operate and maintain the RCIPS helicopters, ensuring that the requirements of the Police Air Operations Certificate are met as directed by Cayman Islands Civil Aviation Authority, and overseeing the selection, training, and welfare of Unit staff.

Having started with the RCIPS as a Special Constable in 1996, Inspector Mohammed became a full police Constable in 1998. Since then he has served in various departments, from front-line shift, to Criminal Investigations, to the Drugs Task Force. He was selected to assist in the development of the Air Support Unit, now the Air Operations Unit, and has completed Police Aviation training courses, including his Tactical Flight Officer certification, in the US, UK and Ireland.

He continues to develop and maintain relationships with other agencies both local and international, and his relationship with National Helicopters Trinidad was instrumental in bringing AC Darren McLean’s secondment with the company to fruition.

Inspector Mohammed will be bringing his knowledge and experience to the role of Head of Air Operations later this year, when the current head of the Unit, Mr. Steve Fitzgerald, is set to retire following over a decade of service to the Cayman Islands.

"I am committed to the maintenance and further development of the Air Operations Unit's high professional standards, set by Steve as the current Head of Air Operations,” says Inspector Mohammed.

“Having been part of the unit from its birth through its infancy and maturity, I am aware there will be many challenges ahead, and I am ready to face these as I continue on with my development through a very comprehensive mentoring program with Steve, who continues to share his wealth of experience, gained over the course of his 49 years in law enforcement, 29 years in police aviation, and 12 years with the RCIPS,” adds Inspector Mohammed. “I also look forward to bringing to fruition the development and placement of our own first Caymanian Police helicopter pilot, Darren McLean”.

“I am quite proud to see Neil promoted to the rank of Inspector,” says Mr. Fitzgerald. “Although it is bittersweet to be retiring after all these years, I know that the Air Operations Unit will be in good hands with Neil at the helm, and I look forward to his continued development over the next few months.”


AC Darren McLean Set to Return to Trinidad & Tobago to Commence Final Leg of Helicopter Pilot Training

A young Caymanian RCIPS employee is moving even closer to achieving a significant first for the service.

Having spent the holiday season in Cayman with his friends and family, RCIPS Auxiliary Constable Darren McLean is heading back to Trinidad and Tobago in April to commence the final leg of his journey to becoming the first Caymanian pilot in the RCIPS Air Operations Unit (AOU).

Darren has been on secondment to a helicopter pilot training program with National Helicopters in Trinidad and Tobago since early 2019. During that time he has received his First Officer Bars, and commenced flying as a co-pilot servicing contracts to the very demanding oil and gas industry.

For Darren, this is all part of a journey which began when he took his first flight in a helicopter many years ago. He had always known he wanted to be a pilot, but it was then he realised that flying helicopters would be his future.

Darren joined the RCIPS AOU in 2017 and was soon certified as a Tactical Flight Officer on the crew of the police helicopter. He had already obtained a commercial pilot’s license for rotorcraft, but he would need further training in order to meet the requirements to fly for the RCIPS.

Over the past three years, Darren has had the opportunity to obtain this training through a unique arrangement between the RCIPS, Cayman Islands Government, and National Helicopters.

“Darren is working for National Helicopters as part of their training program, flying and learning on helicopters even larger and more complex than what the RCIPS currently operates,” says Inspector Neil Mohammed, one of Darren’s supervisors in the AOU. “Darren has been conducting various types of flights under very strict parameters. As well as oil and gas industry flights, he has also been doing medevacs and casevacs (casualty evacuations), providing VIP support, and supporting law enforcement.”

With this arrangement Darren is able to consistently gain experience and hours, while National Helicopters adds another talented pilot to their ranks for an extended period of time.

“The team at National Helicopters is full of praise for Darren, who they say is one of their best trainee pilots,” adds Inspector Mohammed. “They say he is a pleasure to work with and very capable and competent, just as he was when he was working with us in the AOU.”

However, the program has not been without its setbacks, particularly the effects of COVID-19. The emergence of the virus in early 2020 meant that the flight operations of the company were significantly scaled back. This meant that the number of hours Darren could fly during the period were also limited, a challenge that was not limited to National Helicopters, but which did result in a delay from the original timeline.

The COVID-19 situation also meant an even longer period away from friends and family in the Cayman Islands, as travel was limited and the borders were closed.

“It’s always hard being away from home and my family, but being on my own having to deal with COVID, all the lockdown restrictions, and knowing that I couldn’t fly as much, was pretty difficult,” says Darren. “But I’m just thankful that even though I couldn’t be with them, I still had their support the whole time, so I never felt like I was truly on my own.”

Eventually the restrictions on flights eased and Darren was once again back to flying every day. Nevertheless, the situation prompted a review of Darren’s training plan and the timeline for his completion, and Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne reached out to the Civil Aviation Authority Cayman Islands (CAACI) for their expertise in helping determine the best option for the completion of Darren’s training.

CAACI Flight Operations Inspector Captain Adrian “Rex” Miller, who has trained several young Caymanian pilots over the years, offered his feedback to the team on Darren’s current progression and his trajectory, and it soon became clear that National Helicopters remained the best option due to the intensity, quality, and scope of their training program. Even with the COVID-related delays, they also remained able to provide Darren with far more hours than he would be able to receive in Cayman. With the full endorsement of the CAACI, CIG, the Commissioner, and Darren’s supervisors in the AOU, the decision was made for Darren to continue on his current path.

“We’ve stayed in regular contact with Darren throughout his time in Trinidad and Tobago,” says Steve Fitzgerald, head of the Air Operations Unit. “We know that there have been ups and downs over the course of his journey. However, we always make sure to offer whatever mentorship we can as his training continues. We also get regular reports from National Helicopters, and can see the continued progress he’s making, so we know he’s well on track to reaching his goal.”

That goal is for Darren to complete his training and return to working full time with the AOU as Cayman’s first Caymanian police helicopter pilot. But while he will be the first, Darren doesn’t plan to be the only one. When he returns, he and the team will be developing the position of Trainee Pilot, in order to create a path for the next aspiring Caymanian helicopter pilots who will partake in the program.

“We want to have a process in place, so that others can follow in Darren’s footsteps,” says Mr. Fitzgerald. “But they will have to prove themselves, work hard, and show they have the aptitude and the dedication.”

“I want to inspire someone else to see what I’m doing and want to do the same,” says Darren. “They should know that even though it’s hard, it’s not impossible.”

“To be successful as a pilot you really need to be a leader, and have the discipline to come to work and do what you’re supposed to do,” says Captain Miller. “The thing I’ve learned as a trainer, is that you can always tell who the leaders are. That’s why I have no doubt that Darren will continue to be successful in his journey.”

“We wish Darren all the best when he returns to Trinidad and Tobago and know that he will continue to do the service and his country proud,” says Commissioner Byrne. “As I have previously said, Darren has a very bright future with the RCIPS Air Operations Unit.

We also want to thank the Cayman Islands Government for their continued support, and the CAACI for lending us their expertise. This is truly a collaborative initiative that goes beyond just the RCIPS.”

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