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Iowa State Patrol plane catches speeders from 4,000 feet in air

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Have you ever been driving down the highway, didn't see much traffic, and thought you might as well speed a little bit?

Not so fast.

Some highways and interstates have lines painted on them.

Those lines are actually tools, put in place by the Iowa State Patrol to catch speeders from the air.

Jacob Heller rode along with an Iowa State Patrol pilot to find out how easy it is for these trained troopers to spot speeders from a few thousand feet.

Chances are you've seen Iowa State Patrol Trooper John Farley driving in his patrol car, catching speeders in Siouxland.

"Road troopers will catch up with that vehicle and pull it over," said Trooper Farley.

But, at any time, he could have a little help.

"It's not just here on the interstates," said Trooper Farley. "We do it on state highways and county roads also."

And that help could come from the air.

Todd Brechwald is State Trooper, too, but his day-to-day vehicle is a little different.

"It's a basic o super bells-and-whistles airplane," said Trooper Brechwald, pointing to his Cessna.

Todd is an Iowa State Patrol Air Wing pilot, flying one of the State Patrol's seven aircraft.

He flies out of Storm Lake.

When he's up in the air, he's doing a lot, and in a very loud office.

"Listening to three people talking to you, trying to bring traffic to troopers on the ground, running stopwatches and taking notes on the violations that I handed off to the guys on the ground," said Trooper. "So it becomes pretty busy up here."

How does this pilot and plane catch speeder from all the way up in the air?

He uses his eyes, a stopwatch, careful notes and pre-measured marks on the road.

When he measures time against the pre-set distance of those marks, he can figure out speed.

Plus, he says his measurements are in favor of the driver.

Trooper Brechwald says he starts the stopwatch just before a vehicle crosses the first mark.

"When you do that, start prior to the hashmark, stop your watch as they're going over the hashmark, that's giving the benefit of the doubt to the motorist," said Trooper Brechwald.

And the lines on the road?

There's a little leeway there, too.

They might be slightly longer than an eighth-of-a-mile or a quarter-of-a-mile they're supposed to be.

That's because Trooper Brechwald is the one who paints them.

"That can take an easy month, month-and-a-half at least, of me driving around in a pickup with paint in the back and hoping people don't hit me," said Trooper Brechwald.

Being up in the air can be pretty effective, too.

"I think it was 20 speed citations," said Trooper Brechwald, recalling a day of working traffic in September. "I think I worked about two-and-a-half hours."

But being in an office at 4,000 feet can be hard on you, too.

These pilots sometimes have to pull maneuvers, and "g"s, most pilots normally wouldn't.

"There's times that you've got a car, you notice one maybe coming off the other side, you may have to take the aircraft and flip it around to where you can get around and take a look at that car," said Trooper Brechwald, performing a tight turn in the airplane. "As you can feel, you pull a few 'g''s as you're doing that, but, circling like this, you can at least keep your eyes on that vehicle."

And those maneuvers aren't made any easier by the accommodations in the tiny plane, either.

"You're worn out at the end of the day, honestly, it's very tiring, especially constantly pulling circles, looking out the side," said Trooper Brechwald. "You get pretty tight neck and shoulders from constantly looking out the side of your aircraft."

But his work does make a difference.

He's a pair of eyes in the skies, and if you're breaking the law, you won't know the State Patrol's on to you until it's too late.

"We're not setting off radar detectors, they don't know you're up there until all of a sudden there's a trooper behind them," said Trooper Brechwald.

As a pilot, Iowa State Patrol Trooper Todd Brechwald doesn't just help catch speeders.

He says he's done everything from helping catch escaped fugitives, to tracking down missing persons.

He's even helped the Iowa Department of Natural Resources find poachers who were illegally hunting at night.

To learn more about the Iowa State Patrol's Air Wing, please visit this website: dps.state.ia.us/ISP/specialty/airwing.shtml.

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