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Home to SAPD Helicopter Unit, Stinson Airfield Ready for Emergencies

Councilwoman Chan at Stinson Airfield
Ryan Loyd
Texas Public Radio
From left to right: Police Chief William McManus, helicopter pilot Sgt. David Torres, and Councilwoman Elisa Chan discuss the police department's role at Stinson Airfield.

In the span of several decades, Stinson Airport has grown tremendously in air operations, including touch-downs and take-offs, tenants, and a special section dedicated to emergency operations.

With the Department of Public Safety hangar, the San Antonio Police Department chopper unit and a dedicated fire station with aircraft rescue and firefighting capabilities, Stinson Airfield is one of San Antonio's main hubs for emergency situations.

Firefighter Patrick Vital explained some of the equipment during a tour by District 9 Councilwoman Elisa Chan and District 5 Councilman David Medina. One of them is AirTEP, which stands for Tactical Extraction Platform.

AirTEP has the ability to carry up to 10 people and is used for situations like flooding. The military is the main agency to use devices like this, and San Antonio is the only municipality in the country to have one.

"Depending upon the helicopter, the time of day, the temperature, all of that, that plays a lot in what a helicopter can lift," said Vital.

San Antonio Police Air Unit

Among the equipment and personnel, Stinson is home to the San Antonio Police Air Unit. Currently, the department has about five choppers, but all can't fit into the hangar comfortably. During bad weather, Sgt. David Torres, the pilot, said they are placed in the small hangar with their blades intertwined. This is why a new hangar to be built as a result of the 2012 to 2017 city bond program will better serve the choppers and the pilots.

Torres said devices like AirTEP are essential for emergencies, especially flooding that occurs in South Central Texas.

SAPD helicopter
Credit Ryan Loyd / Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio
One of several police helicopters inside the hangar at Stinson Airfield.

"Or, say maybe somebody gets hurt at Government Canyon, we can go and assist somebody where the ground guys have a hard time getting to," said Torres, who is one of 20 department pilots stationed at the hangar every second of every day.

Aviation Director Frank Miller says Stinson plays a crucial role in San Antonio. New traffic here is elevating the airport's significance in the city and around the state.

"Stinson is referred to, or is designated as a reliever airport with the FFA," he said. "We have a focus of trying to increase the amount of activity at Stinson."

Attracting attention

Council members David Medina and Elisa Chan think the airport is doing well. But they know they can help attract attention to it for more funding, programs and initiatives.

"I'm confident that we are prepared out here at Stinson airport," said Medina. "God forbid there was any type of catastrophic event or situation where we needed to call in crews with San Antonio Fire Department or San Antonio Police Department. It seems like we have the equipment necessary in order to handle any type of unexpected situations. Moving forward, we're definitely going to take a look at how we can stay ahead of the curve and be proactive to be prepared."

Medina called the equipment real-life Tonka Toys, but said they make a difference every day.