Our Angel From Above
By Joel E. Gordon
There were many benefits to being a sworn member of the 8th largest police department in the United States with the many specialized support service units that are available, not the least of which is the Baltimore City Police air support unit known as Foxtrot.
I learned the value of having air support early in my career. By my third night working a post by myself on the 4x12 shift I found myself in foot pursuit of a suspect in an assault who was armed with a gun. I pursued the suspect for over three long blocks in dark trash laden and rat infested alleys. I was so intent on catching this “bad guy” that I really forgot about my radio, gun or anything else. All of my energy was spent on the chase with tunnel vision towards an apprehension. Fortunately, the police helicopter, Foxtrot, had my six and was overhead calling out my location by radio while spotlighting the chase. I was really lucky too because the suspect threw his gun while running from me (later safely recovered) and didn’t choose to shoot at me (probably only due to the helicopter as witness). I caught up to the suspect, got him up against the side of a brick building, searching, cuffing and arresting him. My first big arrest!
Many times, after roll call at the western police district stationhouse, we were reminded of Foxtrot’s presence from above. While exchanging shifts by taking over the car assignment and radio from the previous shift officer it was common for a familiar helicopter sound to be heard approaching from the distance. Then, just above our vehicles which were lined up in front of our police station on North Mount Street, Foxtrot would appear swooping down in an acrobatic fashion as a reminder that they were up and flying to assist wherever they could.
The pilot when this would occur was always Flight Officer Barry W. Wood. A veteran combat veteran pilot from the battlefields over Vietnam, he hadn’t joined the Baltimore Police Department to cruise Baltimore city streets. He joined to fly over them.
He served in Vietnam for three years and it is told once safely landed a Huey packed with soldiers after another helicopter flew too close and clipped off his landing gear. He was honorably discharged from the Army on April 1, 1971, and joined the city police force 26 days later becoming one of the first Baltimore Police helicopter pilots.
Wood spent more than 42,000 hours flying over Baltimore in a quarter-century of chasing stolen cars and helping officers find elusive suspects. He once piloted one of the choppers from Los Angeles, where the aircraft were made, to Baltimore, a seven-day trip.
On November 4, 1998 tragedy struck when he was responding to a call to assist fellow officers. The Schweizer Helicopter 300c engine suddenly and unexpectedly exploded. Barry maneuvered the helicopter to avoid endangering the citizens and the police in the area. He turned the helicopter so he took the impact of the crash and saved the life of his observer and partner losing his own life in the process.
Barry is memorialized at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. in its Wall of Honor as an Air and Space Leader located at Foil: 33 Panel: 2 Column: 1 Line: 7
Additionally, the Baltimore Police Department dedicated a new Eurocopter EC-120 in his remembrance… Dedicated to Flight Officer Barry Wood, passed away on November 4, 1998 protecting the City Of Baltimore and doing what he loved to do, Flying.
Flight Officer Barry Winston Wood was a true hero and a great man. The memory of Barry will never be forgotten.
Perhaps it is expressed best in this tribute located on the Baltimore City Police History website:
A Man Who Loved To Fly
If your thoughts go to him and they go sad
Just remember this,
He has no barriers anymore,
For now the clouds aren’t closed doors.
He has no limits
It does not matter how high he flies.
The Good Lord has set him free.
And remember this, if it is a shooting star you see,
Think of him and you will know
That his heart and soul will never die,
For he now lives in the sky,
What a wondrous thing for a man who loved to fly.
To the men and women of the Baltimore City Police Department he truly was and remains our angel from above.
Joel E. Gordon is a former Baltimore City Police Officer and was Chief of Police for the city of Kingwood, West Virginia. He has served as vice-chair of a regional narcotics task force and is a candidate for Preston County West Virginia Sheriff. An award winning journalist, he is author of the book Still Seeking Justice: One Officer’s Story and founded the Facebook group Police Authors Seeking Justice. stillseekingjustice.com