Did You Know: MCSO Air Posse Launched In 1941

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, November 7, 2014 - 11:55am
Updated: Friday, November 7, 2014 - 2:05pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
Jim Shackelford was a MCSO Air Posse. He joined his father and other members on the team after retiring in 1947 as an Air Force pilot serving in WWII. He was 22 when joined the posse, making him the youngest in the group.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez/KJZZ)
This 1947 Stinson is the airplane MCSO Air Posse member Jim Shackelford flew when he first joined the team after WWII.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is known for many things, from Tent City to the pink underwear that Sheriff Joe Arpaio distributes to inmates. A lot of these initiatives have been around for a long time, some longer than others. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office Air Posse is a program that has been used for decades.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Air Posse is a search and rescue group made up of volunteer aviators. Did You Know the Air Posse was first called to assist the sheriff’s office in 1941?

89-year-old Jim Shackelford is a former MCSO Air Posse member. He has a bit of insight as to how the group was created.

“The air posse was the first one that was formed as a posse for the Maricopa County,” Shackelford said.

Shackelford's father was a local dentist whose hobby was flying. He says he remembers when his dad was asked by Sheriff Lon Jordan to help locate an inmate who escaped prison.

The older Shackelford took off and found the man walking along some railroad tracks. Sheriff Jordan was impressed and grateful and had a proposition for Shackelford.

“It was a short time after that that he asked my dad, he says, you suppose that maybe they can get a group together that we could use as a search and rescue of air planes. And my dad says sure he has some old flying buddies that he knew. So, they all kind of got together and they did," Shackelford said.

World War II put a halt to the team for a short time. It wasn’t until the war was over that the air posse was reorganized and it took off. This time, 22-year-old retired air force pilot Shackelford joined his father and the new team as the posse’s youngest member.

“And my dad had just bought a 1947 Stinson. It was new from the factory, and so, I got to fly dad’s air plane," he said.

Shackelford said the volunteer team was an organized group. It purchased its own fuel and repaired planes. The unit was always on call. If someone was reported missing, one or more planes were dispatched to search a designated area.

“We used message drops. We had some plastic tubes with corks in the end with the ribbon and we’d write a message in that," Shackelford said. "And if we find somebody wandering around out there we’d throw a message down that they would have help. Or to the search group that was down there --tell ‘em that where they might find something.”

Shackelford sais over time the air posse was deputized and wore uniforms with badges. They also received radios to better communicate with ground search teams. They were also provided funding for the maintenance of their airplanes. Today, the MCSO Air Posse members continue to assist the county whenever, and wherever they’re needed.

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