But since 9/11, there has been a major overhaul in the fight against terror. And now, Eyewitness News cameras have gone where they've never been allowed before, offering exclusive access on the ground and in the skies to get a first-hand look at what these elite pilots do to keep you safe.
Lieutenant Richard Knoeller and Officer Royston Charles are pilots with the NYPD's Elite Aviation Unit, and their mission is to search for potential terror threats in a state-of-the-art helicopter.
They search rooftops, streets, ports and bridges, providing essential support from above. They survey critical infrastructure almost daily, and they watch over a list of prominent places that could be terror targets.
Costing nearly $10 million each, the helicopters come loaded with cutting-edge technology, including infra-red cameras, a high-tech street mapping system and radiation detectors. A microwave downlink system can transmit live images.
Still, the unit's abilities stretch far beyond counterterrorism. At a moment's notice, the team can be dispatched to any number of emergencies, including water rescues.
The department also has a state-of-the-art helicopter flight simulator, on which pilots are put through a battery of scenarios including air emergencies and all types of weather conditions to prepare them for real life situations.