There is one professionals that you won’t hear too much about and they are considered to be some of the best marksman at close quarter, yes even better than most FBI agents. They are the Federal Air Marshals that protect passengers while in flight. Though FAM was created in 1963 by President John F Kennedy, it wasn’t until the aftermath of 9/11 that their services were fully utilized.
If you’re going to try to take down a terrorist on an airplane, there’s no better way to prepare for that, than to train on a plane. That’s what United States Air Marshals do in a plain-looking office building, near Orlando, in south Florida.
Shooting on a plane is not like in the movies. The federal air marshals cannot miss. And they don’t because missing means hitting innocent bystanders, or it means putting a hole in the side of the plane.
“We train so much and so hard. We try to throw in every scenario possible, just so when that day comes, we’re ready,” said one marshal who spoke with Local 6. The Department of Homeland Security said the accuracy scores of these airplane police are better than the FBI, Secret Service or any other agency.
You can see how good they are when you see the walls of their mockup airliner. The Federal Air Marshal Tactical Pistol Course (TPC), like the classic El Presidente, is shot cold (i.e., no warmup) on the FBI QIT target. The bullets they use are filled with paint (simunitions) and once they finish shooting, there are no large blotches outside the targets, just a few splatters that scatter from direct hits. “As a police officer on the street, you can fall back and take cover,” the agent said. “When you’re in the tube, it’s you and the bad guy. You’ve got to engage.”
In any situation they are all armed, but you’d never know it, and you’d never know they’re on your flight. That means regular clothing, and cover stories if they end up sitting next to a chatty, curious commuter. They train to blend in until a crisis forces them out of their seat and into action to extinguish the incident.
“There’s a lot of training that goes into it, a lot of time spent in the simulator and at the range to ensure that we’re the best at what we do, and I can guarantee there’s no one better,” said the agent. Here’s a typical course of fire that you must pass in order to perform duty.
Something else Local 6 learned about air marshals is they don’t just patrol the skies. They’re on trains, in stadiums, even at landmarks or any place that a lot of people gather. The department of homeland security has realized they can use their specialized skills for all sorts of situations and not just protecting people on planes.