Donald Shinnamon, Sr., the recipient of the MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award here at Heli-Expo 2014, credits his father with his interest in both aviation and law enforcement. Though not involved in aviation work, during World War II his father was stationed at NAS Patuxent River in Maryland, home of the Naval Test Pilot School, where he acquired his enthusiasm for aviation. After the war, the elder Shinnamon became a police officer in the Baltimore County Police Department.
“When I was a division commander in that same police department,” Donald Shinnamon told AIN, “an officer in another patrol division donated a Cessna 150 to start an aviation program there. A few years later, I was transferred to this division as commander and took on the project of building up the aviation program, which was still only the 150. I wanted to add helicopters, but didn’t have the budget to buy new civil aircraft. So we started with three Army-surplus, Hughes TH-55s, from which we put together one. We eventually replaced the TH-55s with Bell OH-58s, replaced the 150 with a Maule and, using drug money, bought a Robinson R22 for narcotics surveillance. Today the department flies Eurocopter AS350Bs, with great, state-of-the-art equipment.”
Shinnamon, who had direct command of the department’s aviation program from 1986 to 1996, holds a commercial pilot certificate with ratings in single-engine airplanes and helicopters and an advanced ground instructor certificate. “I got these as I was building the aviation program,” he said. “As I started to find my way to the national scene for police aviation, I wanted credibility to speak on the technical aspects of flying.” In 1989, he was designated as a police aviator and regularly flew missions as a pilot. He retired from Baltimore County Police Department in 1997 after a 26-year career.
While still with the department, Shinnamon had attended the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) in 1992 and heard a discussion that a committee was needed to speak to aviation-related issues. “So I went to the meeting of about six of us from around the country,” he said. After the meeting he offered his help to the organizer, who told Shinnamon that he could take over the whole effort to create the aviation committee within the IACP, because the organizer didn’t have time to do it. “I ended up chairing the committee for 15 years, until I retired from public service in 2010,” after working as the chief of police for two Florida cities’ police departments and director of public safety for a third Florida community.
Shinnamon has been a member of the Airborne Law Enforcement Association since 1986. As member of the National Sheriffs Association from 1994 to 2005, he founded that group’s aviation committee, too.
He explained his extensive association work partly on the lack of other police officials dedicated to law enforcement aviation. “Police aviation is a very small community. Officers find themselves in command of a police aviation program. But after a couple of years, thanks to promotion or transfer, they’ll move on to another command. So there’s really only been a small group of us who have been consistently involved on the national level of police aviation for a long period of time.”
It was this, “the usual cast of characters,” as Shinnamon called them, who came together to form the Airborne Law Enforcement Accreditation Commission in 2002. “We knew we needed professional standards for police aviation, we talked about it for many years and we finally found some seed money to get to work on it,” Shinnamon explained. “Most of us had experience with police department accreditation standards, we had a model to work from and we knew how the process generally works. It was the first set of industry standards, if you will, for police aviation that address everything from pilot requirements to maintenance training to the administrative structure.”
In 2008, Shinnamon was selected to serve on the first FAA rule-making committee charged with drafting regulatory language to integrate small, unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system. More recently, Bingen, Wash.-based Insitu, a subsidiary of Boeing, engaged him as a consultant to develop the civil market for the company’s unmanned aircraft systems.
“The missing piece of the UAV puzzle is sense-and-avoid technology on board the aircraft, the purpose of which is to do the same thing a human pilot does now, which is to see and avoid other aircraft,” Shinnamon said. “In the near future we will have this technology and then we will see full integration of unmanned aircraft into the airspace system, but that’s still a few years off.
“Where I think the FAA is being overly restrictive is in its policy on very small unmanned aircraft,” he continued. “These are UAVs weighing four pounds or less that are flown in visual line of sight of the operator, meaning they are constantly watching the aircraft, during the daytime and in good weather, so the operator can take care of avoiding other objects in the sky. There is a very cumbersome process to get permission from the FAA to do this and I think this is overly restrictive. And it’s keeping public safety organizations from using the benefits of this technology, which are great.”
Shinnamon believes that the same guidelines established by the Academy of Model Aeronautics, which are followed by people flying radio-controlled model aircraft and fit on one sheet of paper, should be sufficient. “But this is not the position of the FAA,” he lamented.
Although retired from official police work, Shinnamon continues to provide consulting services to his clients and to serve aviation in other ways, including being the unmanned aircraft coordinator for HAI.
“For me it’s an honor to have been selected for the MD Helicopters Law Enforcement Award, and to be recognized by my peers in the industry is tremendous,” he said. “Over the many years I’ve been at the national level, I believe I have made contributions, not just to police aviation, but to aviation as a whole. With my work on unmanned aircraft, I feel I’m making a contribution to the future of aviation. I look forward to making a few more contributions in the coming years.”