Cities add F-16 to Special Response Team fleet

Cities add F-16 to Special Response Team fleet

F-16_June_2008-copy-copyIt’s not a bird, and it’s not just a plane. That low-flying, high-speed aircraft you may have noticed in the area lately is the new Fayetteville / Peachtree City Joint Strike Team F-16 fighter jet.

For about three years, specially trained officers with Peachtree City Police Department and Fayetteville Police Department have joined forces to create a unified special response team for higher-level emergency situations and for times when either department may be executing particularly dangerous search warrants. Officially, it is called the Peachtree City Special Response Team (SRT), but its members wear Fayetteville and Peachtree City uniforms.

Sources within the Fayetteville and Peachtree City police departments say they need to take their game to the air to be more effective, especially here in Fayette County, known nationally as an aviation community. In other words, these days around here some of the “bad guys” might be in the air and not just on the ground. Additionally, having an air wing gives the SRT certain obvious advantages over ground vehicles, speed not being the least of those.

While top speed on even the sportiest of sports cars may top 200 miles per hour, an F-16 flying just above sea level can reach 900. Take it up to optimal cruising altitude, and that same F-16 is doing Mach 2, which is just over 1,300 mph.

When department leaders shared this need for an advantage with their respective mayors and city councils, they heard the same reply from both municipalities: “We can’t afford an aircraft right now, and especially not a jet, and especially not a fighter jet.” Even in the City of Fayetteville, where future tax revenues are expected to boom because of the rapidly expanding Pinewood Studios Atlanta, city leaders are still busy trying to sort out public safety personnel salary discrepancies based on rank and time with the department, so they, too, were hesitant to commit the millions of Dollars it would take to purchase an appropriate aircraft for SWAT use.

And that’s when officers started thinking “outside the box”, as they say. Peachtree City Police Lieutenant Mark Brown says he was driving into the Atlanta Regional Airport – Falcon Field parking lot one morning when it occurred to him that the answer to their prayers might be closer than originally thought.

“The Peachtree City Airport Authority owns that demilitarized F-16 fighter jet perched at the airport’s entrance,” Brown said. “So we simply asked if they wouldn’t mind us using that aircraft for a while until we could afford to purchase a different, perhaps more modern, fighter jet in the future.”

The airport authority’s response might have disheartened some, but not Brown. They told him that the F-16 out front was not only demilitarized, but it is also missing a pretty important jet engine. Furthermore, used engines are hard to come by, and brand-new ones would again be cost prohibitive.

Over a cup of coffee with Fayetteville Police Captain Jeff Harris, Brown shared his search update, and that’s when these officers started thinking not only “outside the box” but also “outside the bubble” (an insider’s reference to Peachtree City).

Harris says he recalls a conversation from a few years back with the late Robert Jordan of Jordan Sales and Salvage in which Jordan made a passing comment about having everything you could imagine inside his storage buildings “on the corner”. Something Jordan had said about airplane parts stuck in Harris’ memory.

“It was a wild chance, but I didn’t want to look back on my life someday and regret not looking to see if maybe Jordan had an F-16 sized jet engine in one of those buildings,” Harris said.

Jordan’s son, Robert, Jr., just like his dad is a big supporter of his local police departments, so he was eager to help Harris see what they could find. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Harris did find a jet engine, it did fit Peachtree City’s F-16, and now the combined SRT has an operable, remilitarized F-16.

The next challenge, of course, was where to park the thing. In Peachtree City, the obvious place is to park it at Falcon Field. But as fate would have it, and in a rare moment of inter-governmental cooperation, Fayette County offered the cities use of its now vacant helicopter hangar beside the old jail right there in Fayetteville.

When the city years ago decided to widen the arrow-straight North Jeff Davis Drive, they had no idea that these days that same roadway would make the perfect part-time runway for a city-operated fighter jet, but it works.

Finding pilots was also easy. Both Brown and Harris immediately signed up for flight school. Upon graduation, the SRT surprised Harris with his name painted just below the F-16’s canopy: Jeff “The Man” Harris. Brown says he is still thinking up a call sign.

[Editor’s Note: April Fools]

Danny Harrison

Danny Harrison, a 1992 Fayette High School graduate, began his journalism career with Fayette County News in 1995. After taking several leaves of absence to pursue journalism and Christian ministry opportunities, including a few out of state and overseas, he returned full-time to Fayette County News in August 2014. Harrison earned a bachelor's degree in pastoral ministry in 2009 while serving as a missionary journalist in England and Western Europe.