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in the United Kingdom
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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.
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 that was present on the day.
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.
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.
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. Commonly fitted to the underside of the helicopter is a public address system, known as “Skyshout”.
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.
The following is a list of police aviation units in the UK and the forces or areas to which they are assigned.
|Aviation Unit||Forces served||Police radio call-sign||Air traffic call-sign||Aircraft|
|Cambridgeshire Constabulary Air Operations Unit||Cambridgeshire Constabulary (also operates as night Air Ambulance: See Magpas)||Quebec Hotel 88||Police 03||MD-900|
|Central Counties Air Operations Unit||Staffordshire Police and West Mercia Constabulary||Air 1||Police 40||EC 135|
|Cheshire Constabulary Air Operations Unit||Cheshire Constabulary||Delta 66||Police 04||EC 135|
|Chiltern Air Support Unit||Bedfordshire Police, Hertfordshire Constabulary and Thames Valley Police||X-Ray Alpha 97 & X-Ray Alpha 99||Police 381/382||EC 135 - |
|Cleveland Air Operations Unit||Cleveland Police||India 55||Police 06||EC 135|
|Devon and Cornwall Air Operations Unit||Devon and Cornwall Police||Oscar 99||Police 09||EC 145|
|Dorset Police Air Operations Unit||Dorset Police||Oscar 99||Police 10||MD-900|
|Dyfed Powys Police Helicopter Unit||Dyfed-Powys Police||X-Ray 99||Police 12||A109E|
|East Midlands Air Support Unit||Leicestershire Constabulary, Northamptonshire Police and Warwickshire Police||X-Ray 55||Police 22||EC 135|
|Essex Police Air Support Unit||Essex Police and Kent Police||Quebec Hotel 99||Police 13||EC 135 - |
|Greater Manchester Police Air Support Unit||Greater Manchester Police||India 99 & India 66||Police 151/152||MD-900 - |
|Humberside Police Air Operations Section||Humberside Police||Oscar 99||Police 19||MD-900|
|Lancashire Constabulary Air Support Unit||Lancashire Constabulary||Oscar November 99||Police 21||EC 135|
|Merseyside Police Air Support Group||Merseyside Police||X-Ray Mike 11(Mike 1)||Police 24||EC 135 - |
|Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit||Metropolitan Police District||India 99, India 98 & India 97||Police 251/252/253||EC 145|
|Norfolk Constabulary Air Operations Unit||Norfolk Constabulary||Oscar India 99||AS355|
|North East Air Support Unit||Durham Constabulary and Northumbria Police||India 99||Police 28||EC 135 - |
|North Midlands Helicopter Support Unit||Derbyshire Constabulary and Nottinghamshire Constabulary||Oscar Hotel 88||Police 08||EC 135|
|North Wales Police Air Operations Unit||North Wales Police||November Whiskey 01||Police 29||EC 135|
|Police Service of Northern Ireland Air Support Unit||Police Service of Northern Ireland||Police 41, Police 42, Police 43, Scout 1||Police 441/442/443||EC 135 - |
EC145 - 
|South East Air Support Unit||Sussex Police, Surrey Police and Hampshire Constabulary||Oscar Sierra 99 and Hotel 900||EC 135|
|South and East Wales Air Support Unit||South Wales Police and Gwent Police||Whisky Oscar 99||Police 32||EC 135|
|South Yorkshire Police Air Support Unit||South Yorkshire Police||Sierra Yankee 99||Police 33||MD-900|
|Strathclyde Police Air Support Unit||Strathclyde Police||Victor Mike 70||Police 51||EC 135 - |
|Suffolk Constabulary Air Operations Unit||Suffolk Constabulary||Alpha 99||Police 35||EC 135|
|West Midlands Police Air Operations Unit||West Midlands Police||Alpha Oscar 1 [G-POLA]||Police 41||EC 135|
|West Yorkshire Police Air Operations Unit||West Yorkshire Police||X-Ray 99||Police 42||MD-902|
|Western Counties Air Operations Unit||Avon & Somerset and Gloucestershire||Quebec 99||Police 01||EC 135|
|Wiltshire Police Air Operations Unit||Wiltshire Police – jointly operated with Wiltshire Air Ambulance (night & day Air Ambulance)||Whisky Hotel 99||Police 43||MD-902|
The following forces have no full-time police aviation cover, although most will hire in aircraft when required.
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