Nearly 50 years ago, the bosses in the Kansas City Police Department were not too keen about a change in the way they were supposed to patrol the streets.
The first helicopters had just arrived, but they were practically unheard of in police work.
Only after the concept worked did it get almost universal approval. The man who prodded and promoted the idea watches from the distance now. But for a brief hour, the innovator went back to the heliport he started.
A guy walks into the helicopter unit
It’d been almost 30 years since Jack Brady had been in the cockpit of a helicopter. He had spent hours there every day in the late 1960s and early 70s. So, just a few months shy of 88, he turned up at the heliport on the city’s East side and found the man who now holds his old job of commander, Capt. Kevin O’Sullivan.
"This man walked into the helicopter unit," says O'Sullivan "We didn’t know him."
The visitor claimed he’d started the Kansas City Missouri Helicopter unit and had flown back some of the helicopters from Long Beach, Calif.
“To make sure he was telling the truth, he pointed himself out in a picture of an old news clipping we had here," says O'Sullivan.
In the picture taken a round 1968, a much younger Brady beams out from the doorless helicopter.
It’s a different world now
Forty eight years later, Brady later sits down in the police hangar to talk with reporters and reminisce.
Helicoptering today is a world of difference now.
“They almost fly themselves compared with what we used to have to do,” says Brady.
The originals were light, low powered and tricky to control, but they gave the police a new view.
Once they got into the air over Kansas City streets, helicopters sold themselves when a pilot could see what cops on the ground couldn’t.
A useful police tool
Helicopters could direct the way to people being chased. They could spot stolen cars, 30 or 40 a month, as Brady remembers. They also helped find missing people.
There was the little girl who hadn’t gone home after school and parents were worried.
“We had the loudspeaker on the outside,” says Brady. “The guys were flying around, I can’t remember the kid’s name but they kept saying ‘Go home. Get home right now.’”
Later the parents said that little girl kind of fell in the door and said the angels were telling her to go home.
“There was [sic] anything but angels in that helicopter up there,” laughs Brady.
They might have been pilots, but they considered themselves cops first.
The first police helicopters cost $300,000 each. The ones in use today cost closer to $3 million.
Returning to the cockpit
Brady was blunt about his interest in today’s helicopters.
“I would like to fly one again,” says Brady. “It’s been probably 30 or 40 years now since I have.”
Brady wanted to ride in one. Permission was granted. So Jack Brady went out, watched by two of his grown daughters. One of them, Cindy Ragsdale watched him climb aboard.
“I really didn’t think he’d be able to go up due to some health issues but he’s so strong and he will not back down from anything,” says Ragsdale. “And to see him go up, just actually brought tears to my eyes because I’m so thrilled for him and excited.”
Returning to the cockpit is a longtime dream for Brady.
“We’ll be talking, and he’ll tell me he dreams at night of flying the helicopters,” says Ragsdale.
Jack Brady got to live out that dream one more time, and Kansas City Police pilots of today got to see the man who made local police aviation a regular tool.