State Police pilot remembers flyover for Cpl. Edwards' funeral

Sgt. Doc Halliday of the Michigan State Police was part of the helicopter crew that participated in a flyover during the funeral services for Taylor police Cpl. Matthew Edwards, who was killed in the line of duty in July during a reported burglary. The funeral services took place July 29, concluding at Michigan Memorial Cemetery in Huron Township. This first-person account is by Sgt. Halliday:

For a Friend I Didn’t Know

I'm driving down the John C. Lodge freeway about 11 a.m., headed for the Detroit Police Department hangar on Thursday morning. That's where we keep helicopter "Trooper 2" – and my cell phone rings.  It’s the supervisor for Detroit Tracon (pronounced tray- con) calling. Tracon is the traffic control office for what's commonly referred to as "Detroit Approach" for pilots at Detroit's Metro Airport, one of the busiest airports in the country. He's calling to go over flight planning for the arrival of a dignitary the next day. After discussing our game plan with regards to the dignitary's aircraft, law enforcement needs and other issues, we begin to close our conversation. He then said to me: "Is there anything I can help you with?"

When pilots describe airspace to non-pilots sometimes it’s hard for people to visualize that airspace is actually very organized and not just a big wide open space, free for all to fly through. So pilots often use a description of the "upside down wedding cake" for an example of what airspace looks like. Imagine the big part of the wedding cake at the top, instead of at the bottom. The big piece of cake is handled by "centers," such as Cleveland Center and Chicago Center at the higher altitudes.  The middle section of cake, which is slightly smaller in diameter, is handled by "approach,"  such as "Detroit Approach." Finally, you have the small piece of cake, but it’s at the bottom. This airspace is handled by "tower" – in this case "Metro Tower."
 
As you can imagine, the radio traffic with Detroit Approach or Metro Tower is extremely busy. It’s no place for rookies, so much so that rookies are prohibited from flying there without specific instruction and a professional flight instructor on board.
 
I explained to the Detroit Tracon supervisor that this afternoon was the funeral of slain Taylor, Michigan, Police Department Cpl. Matt Edwards. The funeral would conclude at the cemetery with full military honors, including a request for a flyover by Michigan State Police Helicopter Trooper 2 at the very end of the ceremony. I already knew what the problem was going to be: the cemetery was under the "approach corridor" for Detroit Metro's extremely busy four parallel runways. There was a pause on the other end of the phone and then he said, "That's a pretty important mission. Let me make some notifications and brief the Metro Tower supervisor. Stand by… This is the Metro Tower supervisor. I have been briefed by Tracon. We will do our best to make sure that flight happens this afternoon!"

Let me tell you something: As a pilot, if this was any other flight request in this same area, it wouldn’t happen. So at the appointed time, we got airborne and with the assistance of Detroit City Airport Tower we got our discreet squawk code for our transponder. That's so all the people looking at radar screens knew this was a very special flight. We didn't need to talk to Cleveland Center because we were not going to the highest altitudes, so we would start our flight in the middle piece of the wedding cake. From there, we were turned over to Detroit Approach and placed in a hold above Wayne State University at 3,000 feet. As the clock ticked closer, we were then moved within the small piece of wedding cake – Metro Tower's very busy airspace.

This is when our flight crew had to start putting it all together. For hours, we had been studying aviation maps, highway maps and a map of the cemetery to determine exactly where Cpl. Edwards would be laid to rest.  

Detroit Police Department Officer Dan Root – part of our crew – was assigned on the ground at the cemetery to "make the call" over a prep radio when we should start our flight toward the funeral. We are now three nautical miles from the funeral trying to be quiet and not disturb the funeral ceremony, yet close enough that we can get there quickly. We are so close to the approach corridor that Metro Tower and our crew are getting nervous.

Detroit Police Department Sgt. Charles Richey is flying as co-pilot and assisting in the huge task of communication, flying and watching for all the hazards: buildings, trees, antennae and jets coming in at 160 knots (184 miles per hour). Officer Root is trying to time our roll perfectly so it coincides with the end of the playing of Taps. Like any fellow officer, we want it perfect, this is for a brother officer, and nothing less than perfect will do.  Officer Root radios, “Start a slow roll.”  

We move from an orbit to setting up on our visual point of reference a couple of miles out just north of the funeral ceremony. We notify Metro Tower; Metro Tower notifies the jets. The tension is very high! Because its just the nature of things, funerals have slight delays. "Trooper 2, stop your roll." We break right and down we go into a bean field below the tree tops and start doing circles a few feet above the ground. Tower notified, jets notified, a 757 goes by overhead. A minute or two goes by, "Trooper 2 roll in." We notify Tower, jets notified by Tower, the radio goes absolutely silent. We pop up out of the bean field, over some high tension (erector set type) power lines. Jets are coming towards us. We are closing with them around 300 knots (345 mph), back down over the rooftop of a high school. Sgt. Richey and I both can see Cpl. Edwards’ casket in the distance and officers saluting their fallen. We are now on course.

As much as I wanted to watch and observe, I can't. My job is to make sure we fly this right. We are now very close and I have the nose of the helicopter directly pointed at Cpl. Edwards. Flyover, count to 5, break left and climb. The silence is gently broken by Metro Tower: "From everybody at Metro Tower please pass on our sincere condolences to the family and all the police officers. Please contact Approach Control on 134.3."  The silence was deafening. Not another word.  (Imagine a super busy tower absolutely quiet.)

We switch frequencies and call "Detroit Approach, Trooper 2 is with you, in a climbing left turn." "Trooper 2 maintain your climbing left turn, you are cleared out of the Class Bravo airspace to Detroit, from everyone at Detroit Approach please give the family and police officers our condolences and prayers." I replied with pride and humility, "Trooper 2 roger, we will let them know." This was rush hour. Not a word was spoken by any pilots from any jets. It was truly a spiritual moment.

At 10 minutes past 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, I set the Michigan State Police helicopter Trooper 2 back down on the helo pad back at City Airport in Detroit.
I was choked up. At this moment, I was so proud – proud to be in law enforcement, to be a Michigan State Police Trooper, to be a pilot, to work in the aviation industry with FAA pros, to work with Detroit P.D., to be in Metro Detroit, to be in Michigan. I had just participated in the absolute pinnacle of teamwork to honor a fallen police officer.

Cpl. Edwards, God bless you and your family.

The last line of the pilots’ prayer is "I put out my hand and touched the face of God"... He was there.

Sgt. Doc Halliday
Michigan State Police Aviation
Trooper 2