Police aviation is the use of rotary-wing aircraft, fixed-wing aircraft, nonrigid-wing aircraft or lighter-than-air aircraft in police operations. Police services commonly use aircraft for traffic control, ground support, search and rescue, high-speed car pursuits, observation, air patrol and control of large-scale public events and/or public order incidents. In some major cities, police rotary-wing aircraft are also used as air transportation for personnel belonging to SWAT-style units. In large, sparsely populated areas, fixed-wing aircraft are sometimes used to transport personnel and equipment.
The first police aviation department was established in New York City in 1919 with two fixed-wing aircraft. Fixed-wing aircraft have generally been replaced by more versatile rotary-wing aircraft since the late 1940s. However, fixed-wing aircraft are still used in some missions, such as border patrol, as their higher speed and greater operating altitude allow larger areas to be covered.
A large mural on the side of St. George's Town Hall in the East End of London depicting the 1936 Battle of Cable Street public order incident includes the police autogyro, that was present during the incident, overhead.
The most common form of police rotary-wing aircraft is the helicopter, but other types of rotary-wing aircraft such as autogyros are also used. The Groen Hawk 4 autogyro was used during the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Police rotary-wing aircraft are normally equipped with special equipment, including night vision, FLIR, surveillance cameras, radar, special radio systems and engines, loudspeaker systems, tear gas dispensers, searchlights, winches and winch cables, flashing light beacons, police rescue equipment and special seating. Weapons are not usually attached to the aircraft. Police rotary-wing aircraft are sometimes equipped to perform multiple functions, or are designed so that equipment can be changed quickly when required for divergent roles. For example, a rotary-wing aircraft could be used for search-and-rescue, and then as an air ambulance.
Police forces sometimes use military surplus rotary-wing aircraft, such as the Bell UH-1 Huey. Some policing organisations, such as the Policía Federal in Mexico, acquire new military rotary-wing aircraft such as the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. However, most buy civilian rotary-wing aircraft directly from major aircraft companies or lease them from specialty suppliers.
Fixed-wing and nonrigid-wing aircraft
Some police air units also use fixed-wing aircraft, which allow higher and quieter surveillance, making it less likely that suspects will become aware they are being watched. A few police air units, such as the Northern Territory Police in Australia, use only fixed-wing aircraft. The use of fixed-wing aircraft also allows for longer flying times and incurs lower running costs. Fixed-wing aircraft are also used to transport prisoners, with the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (nicknamed "Con Air") perhaps being the largest example of this use. Fixed-wing aircraft are also used to provide regular police patrols in remote communities and to transport investigators to remote crime scenes. Light-sport aircraft and powered parachutes can sometimes be used to provide a cost-effective replacement for helicopters in the observation platform role.
The Edgley Optica was a British fixed-wing aircraft built for observation use and was used by the Hampshire Constabulary as an alternative to rotary-wing aircraft. The Britten-Norman Defender is used by the Greater Manchester Police, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Síochána. The FBI deployed one Britten-Norman Defender for electronic aerial surveillance at the Branch Davidian compound during the Waco siege in 1993. In Greater London, the Metropolitan Police Service has, for a number of years, reportedly been secretly using Cessna aircraft that have been fitted with surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile telephone calls and listening in on conversations.
Police blimps were used to patrol the sky during the 2004 Republican National Convention, the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. The blimp Santos-Dumont, named for Alberto Santos-Dumont, operates in the Caribbean for the Special Anti-Crime Unit of Trinidad & Tobago (SAUTT), providing security surveillance. During April 2009, this blimp provided aerial surveillance of the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port-of-Spain. Greater Manchester Police began trial operations of a blimp in 2010 to provide surveillance for major events, which would be a cheaper alternative to the use of a helicopter in the long term. However, the blimp was only used on 18 occasions because of weather-related operational problems.
Unmanned aerial vehicles
List of Police Aviation Units
- Dienst Luchtvaartpolitie (Police Aviation Service)
- Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore
- Bond Air Services
- Central Counties Air Operations Unit
- Cleveland Air Operations Unit
- Chiltern Air Support Unit
- East Midlands Air Support Unit
- Metropolitan Police Air Support Unit
- National Police Air Service
- North East Air Support Unit
- North Midlands Helicopter Support Unit
- South and East Wales Air Support Unit
- South East Air Support Unit
- Sussex Police Air Operations Unit
- Western Counties Air Operations Unit
Border Guards and Customs Services
- Piirivalvelennusalk (Border Guard Flight Squadron)
Maritime Law Enforcement Agencies
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Police aircraft.|
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- Police Aviation News
- UK Police Air Support Information & Operational Info + Gallery