One Police Plaza

A Glimpse into the NYPD's Wild Blue Yonder

April 17, 2006

An apparently minor flying incident last November shines a rare light on the police department�s elite aviation unit, whose helicopters, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has said, play a key role in the department�s surveillance against terrorism.

Last November�s incident occurred on Veterans Day in Western Pennsylvania, where Inspector Joseph Gallucci, the unit�s commanding officer, was grounded for a few hours by the Secret Service after the helicopter in which he was learning to fly, came too close to the airspace of President Bush.

Bush had been speaking at the Tobyhanna Army base as part of a Veteran�s Day celebration and the airspace over the base that Gallucci and his flight instructor inadvertently flew over had been designated as temporarily �restricted.�

According to an FAA spokeswoman, Gallucci and the instructor -- Mario Bernardini of Orange County, N.Y. � both told investigators that Bernardini was piloting the helicopter when they were radioed from a nearby tower and told to turn away and land immediately to explain themselves to authorities.

According to the FAA spokeswoman, the FAA opened an enforcement case of �pilot deviation� but no enforcement action was taken.

Here now is where things become interesting.

According to FAA documents, the helicopter in which Gallucci and Bernardini were flying � a Bell 206B3 -- had belonged to the NYPD from its manufacture date in 1993 until 2004. That August, it was sold to the Agusta Aerospace Corporation of Philadelphia.

Two months later, in October, 2004, according to FAA documents, Agusta sold the helicopter to the Revoh corporation of Wilmington, Delaware. In the first of two telephone interviews, Bernardini said that Revoh is owned by his son, whom he described as a pilot in New York City.

�He has nothing to do with me. I have nothing to do with Revoh,� said Bernardini.

According to the FAA documents, Agusta purchased two other decade-old helicopters from the NYPD at around the same time it purchased the Bell 206B3. NYPD sources say that as part of the deal, Agusta sold four new helicopters to the NYPD for a purchase price of about $9.5 million.

The sources added that this marked the first time the NYPD purchased helicopters from Agusta.

According to the FAA documents, shortly after the NYPD sold these two other helicopters to Agusta, Agusta also sold them to Revoh.

The first of those � a Bell 206-L4, which the NYPD had had since 1994 -- was sold to Agusta in March, 2005. In May, two months later, Agusta sold it to Revoh.

Revoh then sold it to Heliworks LLC of Pensicola, Florida. According to the FAA documents, the helicopter was registered to Heliworks on Jan. 10, 2006.

The second of those helicopters, another Bell 206B -- which the NYPD had owned since 1993 � was purchased by Agusta in March, 2005. In April, the following month, Agusta sold it to Revoh. Two months later, in June, 2005, Revoh sold it to Lips Service LLC of Delaware.

Bernardini describeed Revoh�s purchase of the three NYPD helicopters from Agusta and Revoh�s re-sale of two of them a few months later as �a legitimate transaction.�

�Revoh is a legitimate holding company,� he said. �I had an agreement with Agusta. I made a reasonable purchase from Agusta. It was a legitimate transaction that has nothing to do with anybody in the NYPD.�

Michael Grosso, Agusta�s marketing director, did not return phone calls from this reporter. A receptionist who answered the phone at Agusta last month said she did not know the name of Agusta�s president because, she said, �the company is in transition.�

Bernardini said, �I happen to know many people in this industry. This is a small, tight fraternity.�

Referring to Heliworks and Lips, he said, �I sold two aircrafts to friends of mine. These aircrafts cost a lot of money. You can�t spend this kind of money by yourself.�

Bernardini described himself as an FAA-designated examiner and veteran flight instructor for law enforcement agencies that included the New York State police, the Westchester police and Rockland County Sheriff�s offices.

�Everyone who goes through here pays me,� Bernardini said. �You can�t fly these helicopters without paying. I have devoted my life to training pilots. It has nothing to do with the ownership of the aircraft. These people that fly these helicopters are special people.�

Gallucci, he said, was training with him to add a rating to his pilot certificate.

Referring to the November incident, he said, �There was no violation that day. Somebody put an article in the newspaper that was wrong.�

One last point: The Aviation Unit has seven helicopters. NYPD sources say all four helicopters the unit purchased from Agusta are currently grounded.

Attempts to reach Gallucci last week were unsuccessful. Officers at the Aviation Unit said he was attending meetings to determine how to return the Agustas back to service.