Oakland residents are familiar with helicopters (aka choppers aka "pretty little birds" - yes, I've heard someone say this). Some have made a sport out of spotting the choppers that fly about. Others are annoyed by the noise. Whatever your take on helicopters, you might want to know what you are seeing. They’re often low enough that you can tell their colors and/or markings. Most often seen are news helicopters, but there are a variety of public safety helicopters, flying ambulances, and other helicopters, too.
The identity, purpose and trajectory of helicopters is often revealed by their radio transmissions. Helicopter pilots throughout the Bay Area communicate with another on an aircraft radio channel known informally as "Golden Gate Traffic." The frequency, which can be picked up on almost all scanner radios, is 124.300 (AM). Transmissions typically begin with an identification (usually the registration "N-number") and then indicate direction of travel and altitude. During large public events, demonstrations and disasters, the traffic on this frequency can reveal details that are not otherwise disseminated through the news media. Other frequencies sometimes used by helicopters in the Bay Area include 123.025, 123.050, and 123.075.
Sometimes it is difficult to see the helicopter directly because of trees, surrounding buildings, etc. In that case, use an online service like Flightradar24 can be helpful. That lets you track flights of all aircraft, not just helicopters.
ARGUS (Oakland Police Department's Helicopters): dark blue with white stripes that run along the bottom and up the tail. Labeled N510PD and N220PD [photo of N220PD, N510PD]
- Oakland Police Department's air support unit has been in existence since 1971, and includes two patrol aircraft and one training aircraft. The name ARGUS comes from Greek mythology and is a giant creature that has 100 eyes and is "all-seeing." For OPD's purposes ARGUS stands for Air Reconnaissance Ground Unit Support. 1
- Other ways to figure out about OPD police helicopter
East Bay Regional Park District Police has two copters, both with gray front, dark blue stripes in the middle and lighter blue stripes on tail that say “Regional Park Police”
- N996PD; call sign "Eagle 6" (used to have green stripe, but has apparently been repainted)
- N708PD; call sign "Eagle 7"
- Alameda County Narcotics Task Force Aviation Unit (existed in 2007)?
- San Leandro?
- CHP: Primarily white body with gold and blue stripes that run back and separate the front from the tail. Tail is blue and labeled “CHP” in gold. N314HP. Call sign Eagle 1.
- CAL FIRE: primarily white with red and blue accents. (various letters)
- US Coast Guard: Solid red with white diagonal stripe near tail (various letters)
- Contra Costa County Sheriff: body is white and blue- bottom white, top blue. Tail all blue with slim white stripes.
- California Shock Trauma Air Rescue (CALSTAR): Navy blue bottom, white top, teal cross separating body and tail
- California Department of Forestry & Fire Protection: white with red stripe (?)
- Department of Homeland Security: All white with a section of blue between front and tail. US Customs logo on door. N759AM
- Medi-Flight: white front, blue rear and tail, red/white/blue divider with medical symbol, N545AM
- REACH Air Medical Services: Solid red with white lettering. N22RX, N53RX, N312RX
- Life Net: looks like Medi-Flight. N103LN
- CBS (KPIX): Front half white, back half blue, divided diagonally. “5” logo. N110TV [photo]
- KTVU: Dark blue with lighter blue accents and a big 2 on the side. N62TV (Can also see a big 2 underneath) [photo]
- ABC (KGO): Mustard yellow with a big 7 underneath. N7QY [photo from 7/7/13 without the ABC, Sky HD or 7 logo] ABC 7 recently posted a new graphic saying "Sky HD" has a brand new look [ photo]
- KGO (AM): Solid red, labeled KGO and 810, N22NH [ photo]
- KRON: Solid red, huge 4, smaller KRON, N555TH [photo]
- NBC Bay Area (KNTV): front half white, back half blue, divided diagonally. No logo. Barely legible N7QD tail marking. [current photo / 2006 photo with different paint scheme].
- [former ABC (KGO)]: Solid blue (navy?) with logos and yellow accents, and a big 7 underneath. Not sure where this copter is now being used N477HD, N7QK [photo]
Other / Aerial Photography:
- N666RL: still have not figured out who is operating this, but it is apparently available for rent, as seen here (at about 12.5 seconds in): The Cheapest Way to See SF From a Helicopter
- N92PJ: Used by PG&E in 2019 for fire safety inspections in the Oakland hills.
Links and References
- OPD Press Release, 5/30/12: Oakland Police Helicopter Receives A Donation
- Flightradar24 website