Police aviation in the United Kingdom

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

Jump to: navigation, search
Law enforcement
in the United Kingdom
Types of agency
Types of agent
Statutory Instruments
Eurocopter EC 135 T2 providing law enforcement and medical assistance in the Bristol area.
A demonstration by Dyfed-Powys Police Air Support Unit helicopter in 2008.

Police aviation in United Kingdom provides the British police with an aerial support unit to assist them in pursuit, surveillance and tracking.

The most common air support aircraft is the Eurocopter EC 135T, which is equipped with daytime and night vision video equipment, instrument flight rules systems and radio equipment to track suspects and liaise with officers on the ground.

While most aerial units operate helicopters, some forces also use of aeroplanes such as the Britten-Norman Defender. An aeroplane allows higher and quieter surveillance, making it less likely that suspects will become aware they are being watched. A light aircraft also allows for longer flying time and lower running costs.

Police aviation in England and Wales is planned to become centralised as part of the future National Police Air Service in April 2012.[1]



In 1921, the British airship R33 was able to help the police in traffic control around the Epsom and Ascot horse-racing events.[2]

The large mural depicting the 1936 Battle of Cable Street public order incident on the side of St. George's Town Hall in the East End of London depicts the police autogyro overhead[3] that was present on the day.[4][5]


With scramble times of just four minutes for helicopters, or with standing patrols using fixed wing aircraft, aerial units are faster than ground units and can often be first on the scene to reported incidents.

Aerial units are often tasked to assist in vehicle pursuits. Air support allows ground units to disengage and follow from a discreet distance, hopefully making the pursuit less dangerous while still allowing ground units to be able to close in quickly as directed to apprehend suspects. Aerial surveillance also allows the police to anticipate the direction of the pursuit, and position ground units ahead of the suspect to block roads or deploy spike strips. Aerial units can also be used to efficiently locate missing persons.

Police helicopters can be crewed by three people; a civilian pilot, a police observer and rear police crew member. The pilot and observer sit up-front with eye contact with the ground. The observer is responsible for controlling the camera systems, and recording images for evidence in court. The rear police officer will assist in map-reading and strategic planning, allowing the pilot to concentrate on flying and the observer on camera control and visual reporting.

During an incident, ground and aerial units are able to communicate directly with each other, using the call sign of the unit.


Most police helicopters are fitted with a sphere shaped housing or pod usually under the nose of the aircraft the purpose of which is to support and stabilize two cameras using a gyroscope stabilization system. The two cameras are a standard “day camera” (a colour camera equipped with a powerful zoom lens) and a thermal imaging camera, which enables heat to be detected and is usually utilized during hours of darkness or in the search for persons in hiding. The cameras are normally connected to controls located in the cabin of the aircraft that allow the air observer to directly control them. They are also linked to a recording system and downlink system.

Force helicopters are usually equipped with a powerful “Nightsun” search light that is capable of illuminating a large area.[6]

The Metropolitan Police Service has reportedly been secretly using Cessna aircraft for a number of years that have been fitted with surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile phone calls or listening-in on conversations.[7]


A member of the crew, usually a police constable, occupies the rear seat of the helicopter. The primary purpose of this crew member is to relay critical information to police units that are on the ground. In the case of traffic pursuits, this crew member will provide a running commentary of the exact location of the suspect's car, utilising either paper maps or a computerised mapping and navigation system.


Police helicopters are usually fitted with radios capable of transmitting and receiving communications on their force's and other force's Airwave TETRA radio system. More recently, police helicopters have been fitted with a device that allows live video images to be transmitted directly to the force command centre by way of a downlink system.[6] Commonly fitted to the underside of the helicopter is a public address system, known as “Skyshout”.[6]

When speaking to air traffic control police helicopters and fixed wing aircraft use the callsign "Police" followed by a two digit number representing the police force. These numbers were originally based on a list of police forces in England & Wales in alphabetical order, followed by Northern Ireland, followed by Scotland. So "Police 01" was Avon & Somerset Police. Some police air units now cover more than one force; their number relates to one of the forces. For example "Police 01" is now used by the "Western Counties" unit which includes the Avon & Somerset force area. If the unit has more than one aircraft a third digit will be added to identify each aircraft.


List of police aviation units

The following is a list of police aviation units in the UK and the forces or areas to which they are assigned.

As of 1 October 2012, all individual police aviation units in the UK will begin to merge to form the National Police Air Service, with a planned completion date of January 2015.[21]

Aviation UnitForces servedPolice radio call-signAir traffic call-signAircraft
Cambridgeshire Constabulary Air Operations UnitCambridgeshire Constabulary (also operates as night Air Ambulance: See Magpas)Quebec Hotel 88Police 03MD-900
Central Counties Air Operations UnitStaffordshire Police and West Mercia ConstabularyAir 1Police 40EC 135
Cheshire Constabulary Air Operations UnitCheshire ConstabularyDelta 66Police 04EC 135
Chiltern Air Support UnitBedfordshire Police, Hertfordshire Constabulary and Thames Valley PoliceX-Ray Alpha 97 & X-Ray Alpha 99Police 381/382EC 135 - [22]
Cleveland Air Operations UnitCleveland PoliceIndia 55Police 06EC 135
Devon and Cornwall Air Operations UnitDevon and Cornwall PoliceOscar 99Police 09EC 145
Dorset Police Air Operations UnitDorset PoliceOscar 99Police 10MD-900
Dyfed Powys Police Helicopter UnitDyfed-Powys PoliceX-Ray 99Police 12A109E
East Midlands Air Support UnitLeicestershire Constabulary, Northamptonshire Police and Warwickshire PoliceX-Ray 55Police 22EC 135
Essex Police Air Support UnitEssex Police and Kent PoliceQuebec Hotel 99Police 13EC 135 - [23]
Greater Manchester Police Air Support UnitGreater Manchester PoliceIndia 99 & India 66Police 151/152MD-900 - [24]
Britten-Norman Defender[25]
Humberside Police Air Operations SectionHumberside PoliceOscar 99Police 19MD-900
Lancashire Constabulary Air Support UnitLancashire ConstabularyOscar November 99Police 21EC 135
Merseyside Police Air Support GroupMerseyside PoliceX-Ray Mike 11(Mike 1)Police 24EC 135 - [26]
Metropolitan Police Air Support UnitMetropolitan Police DistrictIndia 99, India 98 & India 97Police 251/252/253EC 145
Norfolk Constabulary Air Operations UnitNorfolk ConstabularyOscar India 99AS355
North East Air Support UnitDurham Constabulary and Northumbria PoliceIndia 99Police 28EC 135 - [27]
North Midlands Helicopter Support UnitDerbyshire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire ConstabularyOscar Hotel 88Police 08EC 135
North Wales Police Air Operations UnitNorth Wales PoliceNovember Whiskey 01Police 29EC 135
Police Service of Northern Ireland Air Support UnitPolice Service of Northern IrelandPolice 41, Police 42, Police 43, Scout 1Police 441/442/443EC 135 - [28]
EC145 - [29]
Britten-Norman Defender[31]
South East Air Support UnitSussex Police, Surrey Police and Hampshire ConstabularyOscar Sierra 99 and Hotel 900EC 135
South and East Wales Air Support UnitSouth Wales Police and Gwent PoliceWhisky Oscar 99Police 32EC 135
South Yorkshire Police Air Support UnitSouth Yorkshire PoliceSierra Yankee 99Police 33MD-900
Strathclyde Police Air Support UnitStrathclyde PoliceVictor Mike 70Police 51EC 135 - [32]
Suffolk Constabulary Air Operations UnitSuffolk ConstabularyAlpha 99Police 35EC 135
West Midlands Police Air Operations UnitWest Midlands PoliceAlpha Oscar 1 [G-POLA]Police 41EC 135[33]
West Yorkshire Police Air Operations UnitWest Yorkshire PoliceX-Ray 99Police 42MD-902
Western Counties Air Operations UnitAvon & Somerset and GloucestershireQuebec 99Police 01EC 135[34]
Wiltshire Police Air Operations UnitWiltshire Police – jointly operated with Wiltshire Air Ambulance (night & day Air Ambulance)Whisky Hotel 99Police 43MD-902[35]

The following forces have no full-time police aviation cover, although most will hire in aircraft when required.

See also


  1. ^ "New plans for a national police air service". Association of Chief Police Officers. 26 October 2010. http://www.acpo.presscentre.com/Press-Releases/New-plans-for-a-national-police-air-service-a9.aspx. Retrieved 5 January 2012.
  2. ^ R33 - G F A A G 1916- 1921 : Early Life
  3. ^ "The Battle of Cable Street mural, Shadwell - London Mural Preservation Society". http://londonmuralpreservationsociety.com/murals/battle-cable-street/. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  4. ^ "The working life of Museum of London: How the East Was Won". http://www.mymuseumoflondon.org.uk/blogs/blog/how-the-east-was-won/. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  5. ^ ""British fascism and the measures taken against it by the British State, p4" by David Botsford". http://www.libertarian.co.uk/lapubs/histn/histn028.pdf. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  6. ^ a b c "About the helicopter". Western County Air Operations Unit. 2004. http://www.westerncounties.org.uk/about_the_helicopter/.
  7. ^ "Met Police spends millions of pounds on secret aircraft". http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/8857517/Met-Police-spends-millions-of-pounds-on-secret-aircraft.html. Retrieved 2012-05-17.
  8. ^ Hampshire Council
  9. ^ Flight International 30 August 1986, p.54.
  10. ^ "Police helicopter crashes after clipping city flats. Copter 'was waving about and then it disappeared'". Glasgow Herald. 25 January 1990. http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/police-helicopter-crashes-after-clipping-city-flats-copter-was-waving-about-and-then-it-disappeared-1.593674.
  11. ^ "Police widow to sue chief constable over helicopter crash". Glasgow Herald. 30 June 1990. http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/spl/aberdeen/police-widow-to-sue-chief-constable-over-helicopter-crash-1.570178.
  12. ^ "Crashed helicopter under scrutiny". BBC News. 2001-12-27. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/1730001.stm.
  13. ^ Police helicopter crash 'miracle' BBC News, 18 February 2002
  14. ^ "Vandals attack police helicopter". BBC News. 2009-05-14. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/surrey/8050120.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  15. ^ "Arson attack on police helicopter". BBC News. 2009-06-08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/8088823.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  16. ^ http://www.caa.co.uk/application.aspx?catid=60&pagetype=65&appid=1&mode=detailnosummary&fullregmark=WMAO
  17. ^ "west midlands police ready to take off with new chopper". Birmingham Mail. July 2010. http://www.birminghammail.net/news/birmingham-news/2010/07/22/west-midlands-police-ready-to-take-off-with-new-chopper-97319-26904112/.
  18. ^ "Police pursue helicopter vandals". BBC News. 2009-10-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/merseyside/8300873.stm. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  19. ^ "Two helicopter crash scenes under investigation". BBC News. 2010-10-29. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-11644029.
  20. ^ "BN2T Islander, G-BSWR". Air Accidents Investigation Branch. 2012-04-08. http://www.aaib.gov.uk/publications/bulletins/february_2012/bn2t_islander__g_bswr.cfm.
  21. ^ http://www.acpo.presscentre.com/Press-Releases/National-Police-Air-Service-is-launched-1a8.aspx
  22. ^ "photo". Airliners.net. 2005-02-27. http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Police/Eurocopter-EC-135T-2/0788970/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  23. ^ "Photos: Eurocopter EC-135T-2 Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2006-05-28. http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Police/Eurocopter-EC-135T-2/1062979/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  24. ^ "Photos: MD Helicopters MD-902 Explorer Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2008-09-27. http://www.airliners.net/photo/Greater-Manchester-Police/MD-Helicopters-MD-902/1407469/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  25. ^ "UK Emergency Aviation - UK & Ireland Police Helicopter Operations A-M". http://www.ukemergencyaviation.co.uk/policehelicopteram.htm. Retrieved 2012-05-16.
  26. ^ "Photos: Eurocopter EC-135T-1 Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2004-08-07. http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Police/Eurocopter-EC-135T-1/0641152/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  27. ^ "Photos: Eurocopter EC-135T-1 Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2006-11-12. http://www.airliners.net/photo/UK---Police/Eurocopter-EC-135T-1/1146558/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  28. ^ "Photos: Eurocopter EC-135T-2 Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2006-09-04. http://www.airliners.net/photo/Northern-Ireland--/Eurocopter-EC-135T-2/1148967/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  29. ^ "Police Service of Northern Ireland new helicopter". Police Service of Northern Ireland. 2010-03-07. http://www.psni.police.uk/new_police_helicopter. Retrieved 2011-03-06.
  30. ^ "Photos: Eurocopter BK 117 Aircraft Pictures". UK Emergency Aviation. 2011-07-19. http://www.ukemergencyaviation.co.uk/G-DCPA.htm. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
  31. ^ "UK Emergency Aviation - UK & Ireland Police Helicopter Operations N-Z". http://www.ukemergencyaviation.co.uk/policehelicopternz.htm. Retrieved 2012-05-16.
  32. ^ "'Photos: Eurocopter EC-135T-2 Aircraft Pictures". Airliners.net. 2007-09-11. http://www.airliners.net/photo/Bond-Air-Services/Eurocopter-EC-135T-2/1266398/M/. Retrieved 2009-06-09.
  33. ^ "Air Operations". West Midlands Police. http://www.west-midlands.police.uk/airops/. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  34. ^ "Welcom". Western Counties Air Operations Unit. http://www.westerncounties.org.uk/. Retrieved 2009-01-04.
  35. ^ "About the helicopter". Wiltshire Air Ambulance. http://www.wiltshireairambulance.co.uk/helicopter.htm. Retrieved 2009-01-04.

External links