Helicopter Association International
2021 Salute to Excellence Awards:
Law Enforcement Award: Officer John Cooper

Sponsored by MD Helicopters


Officer John Cooper
Safety and Training Officer, Columbus Division of Police

While John Cooper earned his private pilot single engine land rating in his teens, it was helicopters that truly captured his imagination.

Using money from his full-time paper route and helping scrap Army surplus helicopters for a helicopter operator in Maryland, Cooper earned his private helicopter add-on certificate in an Enstrom in the late 1970s. His training then came to a halt as he sought the funds and a path to a helicopter pilot career.

Cooper’s big break came in 1988 when he was hired by the Columbus Division of Police in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus Police’s robust helicopter aviation unit trained officers to fly. Cooper served as a street officer until he was accepted into the aviation unit in 1991. There he earned his commercial helicopter certificate and flew as a helicopter tactical pilot. A few years later, he earned his certified flight instructor rating. In 1996, he became the unit’s safety and training officer.

Today, at 57, Cooper is the both Columbus Police’s longest serving pilot in the aviation unit and its longest serving safety and training officer. He’s built 5,900 hours in helicopters, with 3,500 of them being instruction given. During his 30-year career with the unit, he’s also made significant strides to strengthen and build its safety programs and has become an FAA helicopter designated pilot examiner.

In his position, Cooper has two main responsibilities. The first is maintaining and overseeing safety standards for the department’s well-recognized heliport. The second is overseeing all unit pilot training.

In 1999, Cooper helped the Columbus Police become the first police department to achieve Public Safety Aviation Accreditation Commission (PSAAC) accreditation. He’s since successfully achieved reaccreditation in 2012. Columbus Police awarded him its Medal of Merit for both.

The Columbus Police employ 21 pilots who fly the unit’s five aircraft, one Bell 407GXi and four MD530F helicopters. Cooper provides primary, recurrent, and transition training to each of them, ensuring every pilot meets rigorous FAA and departmental standards, including two check rides a year.

At Columbus Police, new additions to the aviation unit come with everything from no flight experience to full certificates. Cooper helps each gain the experience needed to eventually receive pilot-in-command status on the aircraft, with particular emphasis on safety.

“I’m big on safety,” he says. “I put a lot of emphasis on emergency procedures too. We’ve had four engine failures and the pilots put the aircraft down safely in some very confined areas. I’ve had pilots come to me after and thank me for the training. That emphasized for me how important emergency procedures are.”

To increase safety, Cooper helped establish an integrated training system for the department, something for which he again achieved the department’s Medal of Merit. He applied for a grant and added a helicopter ATD to his training equipment to allow for inadvertent instrument metrological conditions (IIMC) training. He developed established decision models based on realistic scenarios and put all the pilots through them. He also invites local air traffic controllers to participate in instrument and IIMC training, acting as ATC to add to the realism.

“I love training,” he says. “I love getting into people’s minds and bringing that understanding. I like taking something complex, breaking it down, and making it easily digestible. That’s what any instructor should be doing.”