Iowa was one of the first states to use aircraft to observe traffic violations from the air. The Iowa State Patrol’s Air Wing Unit was established in 1956 with two Piper Super Cub aircraft and two pilots, both of which were based in Des Moines. The Air Wing currently consists of three Cessna 182 aircraft, one Cessna 206 aircraft, and one SR-22 CIRUSS. There are currently five pilots serving in Air Wing Unit, with five aircraft based at two different airports in the state.


The primary mission of the Air Wing is traffic enforcement, with the majority of the hours flown annually dedicated to enforcing Iowa’s motor vehicle laws. However, pilots with the Iowa State Patrol’s Air Wing are called upon to assist with many other diverse duties. To assist in in those duties, the Air Wing currently has two aircraft equipped with thermal imaging equipment, commonly called FLIR. The FLIR equipment allows the pilot and FLIR operator to search for missing persons, fugitives, and provide specialized surveillance in day or night conditions. 

Additional missions performed by Iowa State Patrol pilots and aircraft include:

  • Providing support to local, state and federal law enforcement partners in criminal investigations
  • Searches for lost/missing persons and fugitives using both visual and thermal imaging (FLIR) equipment 
  • Traffic control at major sporting venues
  • Dignitary protection
  • Emergency relay
  • Photography missions
  • DNR hunting flights
  • Passenger and supply transports