Carlos “Danny” Casanova fell in love with aviation while working as a deputy sheriff with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in Florida. Now, he’s protecting his community from above in an Airbus H125 police helicopter as an aircraft commander and airborne law enforcement pilot.
Casanova started his law enforcement career with the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office in 2008 as a deputy in the corrections department.
A few years later, Casanova went through the crossover academy—an additional 520 hours—and upon completion was transferred to road patrol, where he eventually developed a curiosity for aviation. He recalled an incident where, after discovering that the driver of a suspicious vehicle had a suspended license, active warrants, and other traffic violations, he attempted a traffic stop. The suspect continued driving and eventually stopped at the entrance of an apartment complex and quickly fled from the vehicle to escape.
“Without hesitation,” Casanova said, “I jumped out of my patrol car and chased him on foot. As I was chasing him, I called for backup, radioed his description, and soon had additional officers, a helicopter, and a K9 unit on the way. The suspect was determined to get away, but with the help of the helicopter and K9 unit, we were able to corner him and take him into custody. It was a thrilling experience and a great example of how teamwork and quick thinking can lead to success in the field.”
Reflecting on the chase a few days later, Casanova realized that without the help of the sheriff’s helicopter, the suspect would have gotten away. “I thought those guys in aviation were awesome. That’s when I became interested in aviation.”
Casanova started by looking into aviation within his agency and realized he didn’t even know where the aviation unit was located.
“Initially, I believed that the pilots had prior military experience, specialized training, and extensive knowledge, which made the idea of becoming a pilot for the sheriff's office seem intimidating,” Casanova said.
He began researching how to get his pilot certificate and quickly realized the expense of flight training was out of reach. Undeterred, Casanova connected with a colleague and discovered that having a pilot certificate was not mandatory to become a flight officer. Instead, one must have at least two years of law enforcement experience and good conduct to join the aviation unit. Later that year a vacancy for a tactical flight officer position opened. Casanova submitted his résumé and was selected as a full-time member. A few years later, he became crew chief.
Eventually, Casanova took and passed his FAA written exam and began logging flight hours. As a tactical flight officer, he was able to log flight hours whenever he flew with an instructor, allowing him to learn how to hover the helicopter, talk to Air Traffic Control and gain a better understanding of airspace and weather.
“I finally stopped making excuses and saved enough money to get my pilot's license,” Casanova explained. With 20 hours already in his logbook, he earned his helicopter pilot certificate in two weeks from a flight school in Kissimmee, Florida. “My boss claims that I set a new record, however, it’s essential to note that I had some experience which gave me an advantage over a brand-new student pilot.”
Casanova earned both his private pilot and commercial pilot certificates in a French two-seat Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter and went on to obtain his instrument rating and night vision goggle endorsement in the Airbus H125.
“Eventually, a pilot role opened in my aviation unit. I was automatically assigned, since I met the minimum requirements,” Casanova explained. “After being selected for the position, I began my Initial Law Enforcement Pilot Training which included comprehensive instruction in flight operations, emergency procedures, surveillance, and pursuit operations as Pilot-in-Command. The training involved both ground school and flight instruction.”
“Additionally,” Casanova continued, “I attended Airbus, the helicopter manufacturer in Dallas, Fort Worth, Texas, where I underwent their initial training program for the H125. The training covered various topics, including aircraft systems, flight operations, emergency procedures, human factors, crew resource management, and best maintenance practices. The course lasted a week and included a substantial amount of flight training both in the simulator and the aircraft.”
Now nine years later, Casanova holds the titles of aircraft commander and pilot in command, a position he’s proudly held for the last three years.
Casanova credits much of his success to a number of mentors he’s had along the way, helping him develop his skills in law enforcement and aviation.
“Bob Crumley, Seminole County Aircraft Commander, was an important mentor who helped shape my career,” Casanova said. “He offered practical advice and insights into airborne law enforcement, helped me develop my technical skills, and offered unwavering support and encouragement throughout my career. His mental strength, work ethic, and admirable view of life inspire me. Thanks to his mentorship, I was able to achieve my dreams and build a successful career as an airborne law enforcement pilot.”
“My long-term career goal is to keep mastering my skill and mentor aspiring law enforcement pilots and share the skills and knowledge I've gained,” Casanova said. “I want to emphasize the importance of safety, situational awareness, decision-making, and teamwork in the high-pressure environment of law enforcement aviation. I believe that by sharing my knowledge and experiences, I can help others achieve their goals and succeed in this exciting and challenging field.”