Airborne law enforcement organizations around the world rely on rotary and fixed-wing aircraft to safely complete their missions, whether that involves patrol, surveillance, emergency medical services, search and rescue or tactical operations. The wide range of missions means customization of aircraft is vital to ensure good outcomes.
Helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft are adapted for police use based on that department’s specific requirements. Aircraft type, performance, range, size, and power all have an impact on the role to which it is best suited. Typically, the operator provides a technical specification on their desired platform and requirements, and the industry endeavors to respond accordingly, or integrate this equipment onto the platform within the local airworthiness regulations. Some departments want a dedicated, specialized aircraft for a single use, and others want a multi-role aircraft. Each aircraft – or fleet of aircraft – is tailored to the specific operators’ requirement based on the intended role/missions of the specific platform. Eduard Walder of Aerolite told AirMed&Rescue: “Typically, the aircraft original equipment manufacturer (OEM) will install mission management systems, or industry suppliers will install upgrades such as a Multi Mission Flight Management System, Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, Loud Hailer, FLIR cameras etc. Operators have many specific requirements in regards to installed systems, communications, electrical panels, equipment racks, stretchers, retainers, etc. Some COTS equipment is integrated and some custom built for the purpose.”
Duncan van de Velde, Managing Director at Bell, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about the trends the company is witnessing in the market for increased flexibility from law enforcement aircraft: “We see a growing trend for more truly multi-mission capable helicopters that can operate in all environments. Whereas many operators have one or maybe two primary mission sets, the public safety segment trends are expanding into broader multiple secondary mission sets. For example, the same aircraft that previously focused on patrol and surveillance work only, is now performing secondary missions like tactical insertions/extractions, search and rescue (SAR) work and even initial attack firefighting.”
Linked to this multi-mission requirement is that fact that more is being asked of the aircraft and the crews flying them. Greater distances are being covered, and it’s not unlikely that the crews can travel from a mountain SAR mission and descend to sea level for a casualty recovery in the same day. Reacting to these requirements means the aircraft being used have to deliver more power as needed. Van de Velde said: “Bell has certainly seen a growing trend for enhanced hot/high aircraft performance needs and especially in the medium-twin class. As a result, Bell’s newly certified 412EPX incorporates an 11-per-cent increase in take-off power and resultant approximated 15-per-cent increase in hot/high performance.” That same demand also resulted in an 800-pound gross weight increase and 500-pound cargo hook gross weight increase for Bell 412EPX.
Flexibility in customization from OEMs and suppliers
It’s not just about helicopter performance, though. For airborne law enforcement operators, the kinds of missions they are tasked with on a daily basis means the equipment required onboard is varied in order to incorporate as many mission equipment options as possible. “For example,” said van de Velde, “each of Bell’s helicopters are certified with imaging sensor mounts, which are based not on specific camera type, but rather on equipment weight. The customer is able to choose from a wide variety of imaging cameras that best fits their needs and not just Bell’s picks. This same focus carries over to search lights and other speciality mission equipment as well.”
Bell directly supports segment customers in more than 120 different countries, including those tasked in austere rugged environments like arid deserts, hot and high elevations of alpine regions, to overwater and even densely populated urban areas. “What is perhaps must interesting is the number of public safety operators that conduct multi-mission operations in a combination of all these areas,” noted van de Velde. “Although we have customers that are tasked with these collective operations and conditions all over the world, one such example is in the Southern California basin of the US.”
Michael Tagliaferri, Major/Assistant Chief - Support Services Bureau, Maryland Department of State Police Aviation Command, spoke to AirMed&Rescue about the variety of missions to which the unit responds. The unit’s current fleet of 10 AW139 aircraft was acquired in 2013 and were specifically designed for a multimission platform. “The mission of the Maryland State Police Aviation Command is to protect and improve the quality of life through the airborne delivery of emergency medical transportation, law enforcement, SAR, homeland security, and disaster assessment services to citizens of the State of Maryland and its neighbors 24 hours a day,” he explained. The custom configuration allows pilots and flight paramedics to quickly transition between law enforcement, EMS and search and rescue missions at a moment’s notice. “We also utilize a Piper Saratoga for transport of personnel, helicopter parts and equipment as well as extended law enforcement search missions,” he added.
Quick changeovers of the interior of a multimission aircraft is therefore essential, as noted by Robert Braunsberger of Air Ambulance Technology (AAT): “The key benefit of the AAT equipment, amongst several other benefits, is its extraordinary short installation and removal time in the helicopter, thus enabling [police] customers a true multi-mission profile of their aircraft. Also, we do design our equipment to meet the very specific needs of our customers that may include special features installed either on our own products (such as NVIS systems) or within their immediate proximity and having a direct interface (such as winch interfaces and others).”
Tagliaferri shared details of the requirements placed on the crewmembers, and the equipment they need to assist them in successful fulfillment of these responsibilities: “The role of Maryland State Police (MSP) crewmembers over such operations include the relay of observations, tactical oversight, overall officer safety, detention and arrest activities, and suggestive actions for others to follow a particular course of action. Our law enforcement missions often include response to incidents of armed suspects, ground searches, perimeter control, vehicle pursuits, tactical team insertion, K9 transport, photographic missions and civil unrest support.”
Just some of the equipment onboard the AW139s flown by the MSP includes:
- Wescam MX-15i Imaging Device
- Trakka Beam A800 Search Light
- Euronav Mapping System
- Goodrich Hoist
- Night vision goggles
When searching for the right aircraft for the job, Tagliaferri said: “Our request was for an aircraft that was capable of fulfilling our multimission platform that required customization of the aircraft with the above listed equipment. I believe many agencies make similar requests for customization to fit the specific mission platform they utilize.”
Reacting to customer demands
As a further example of aircraft being customized to fit, a hybrid of the MRC is a recently developed police configuration for the Bell 429 that utilizes the German technology company ESG’s mission management system. “This specific configuration stems from collective customer feedback that favored specific equipment,” explained van de Velde. “The mission management system includes everything from the observer console to the mission computer, video and audio recording and other ancillary systems.” The twin-engine aircraft is already in use with several European law enforcement customers, including the Swedish National Police (SNP), Slovakian Police, and Turkish National Police.
The newly certified Bell 412EPX, meanwhile, has incorporated a certified 30-minute dry-run capability of its main rotor transmission. “This was a direct result of a global customer whose public safety over-water rescue mission was being pushed to further distances,” noted van de Velde. “Bell developed the needed change to meet their mission interoperability.”
Not all agencies require the size of the AW139 and all that it offers to users. But the MSP’s somewhat unique role as a dual law enforcement/medevac aircraft was what informed the choice of helicopter: “I believe the overall larger size of our aircraft and twin engine and hoisting capabilities were key factors for our multimission platform,” said Tagliaferri. “Our interior cabin is capable of transporting two patients on backboards with a crew of two full-time providers onboard for each mission. The size of our aircraft and cabin also enhance our hoisting capabilities, as we can perform missions over a variety of terrain with several extraction devices at our disposal. From my experience, most law enforcement agencies operate smaller, more nimble and fuel efficient aircraft that proactively patrol without an EMS/search and rescue mission. Our mission is response based and mandated by funding to be 80 per cent HEMS/SAR and 20 per cent law enforcement.”
The prevalence of guns in the US also begs the question of whether or not helicopter cabins should be bullet proof. Tagliaferri told AirMed&Rescue: “Our cabins are not bullet-proof but both sworn and civilian personnel are issued ballistic vests to wear during high risk law enforcement missions. We also have minimum altitude requirements for specific high risk incidents involving firearms. We have specific weather minimums to avoid icing conditions and we do not utilize de-icing equipment.”
Ongoing change and innovation
Bell’s newest aircraft continue to incorporate multi-mission compatibility for the increased demands on public safety operators. For example, the Bell 429 and new Bell 505 aircraft designs have a deliberate focus on open cockpit suites with large cabin door openings. This has resulted in the ‘widest in class cabin openings’ for all of Bell’s commercial helicopters. This seemingly insignificant example becomes a critical operational point when transitioning from patrol flights, to missions like diver insertion or hoist litter upload.
In a related aircraft support example, Bell has incorporated the MSG-3 maintenance certification into its new aircraft. The MSG-3 process not only drastically reduces maintenance man-hour to flight hour ratios and direct operating costs, but creates a broader ability to conduct field maintenance. Theses specific features have directly impacted the multi-mission interoperability of the public safety operators as coverage areas and operational service hours have expanded, while at the same time support man-hour availability has become more challenged. The Bell 429 was the first helicopter in the world to receive this certification and was followed by the new Bell 505 now having the same certification.