Bordered by the great Mississippi River to the west, open to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, Mississippi’s landscape comprises plains, farmland, and acres of pine, hardwood swamp, and coastal grasslands. Temperatures in summer can reach into the 90s (33˚C) and average annual rainfall is more than 50 in (127 cm). In other words, “hot and muggy,” says Captain Ron Kelley, Director of Air Operations for the Mississippi Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety (MHP/MDPS).
For the department’s H125 helicopter, tasked with covering airborne law enforcement for the state, that means a variety of terrain and conditions to contend with. “Visibility is the biggest challenge,” says Kelley. “We see a lot of trees and ground vegetation outside of the city areas. Mississippi is rural with a lot of forest—unless you’re working in the Delta area, which is flat farmland.”
When the department needed to replace its aging aircraft fleet, visibility and cockpit size were factors in the choice of new helicopter. “In the H125, we have the ability to see more area when visually searching during the day, as well as during night vision goggle (NVG) operations,” says Kelley. “The amount of room in the cockpit for controllers, keyboards and helmets with mounted NVGs is like no other helicopter on the market. The cockpit’s space and visibility are key in providing a safe operational environment.”
That ability to see and be seen aids the airborne division in operations involving manhunts, search and rescue (SAR), disaster relief and marijuana eradication—and, often, missions where simple altitude is needed. “We received a call about an elderly woman who had been missing for 24 hours,” says Kelley. “Temperatures were in the upper 90s, so dehydration was a big concern. We located her an hour into the search about 150 yards in a cornfield. Because of how far she was inside the field and the height of the corn, it would have been almost impossible for searchers on the ground to locate her. What made this mission so special was that the next day was July 4th, a day for family, and a burden had been lifted from this woman’s family.”
The Mississippi DPS’s H125 was produced entirely in Columbus, Miss., where Airbus Helicopters Inc. also builds UH-72A Lakotas. Since 2014, the site has added a full final assembly line for the H125. The law enforcement completion package was handled at the company’s headquarters in Grand Prairie, Texas. With its ability to accommodate a variety of mission packages, the H125 has become a favorite with law enforcement agencies around the country.
For the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s Air Wing, the AStar’s multi-role mission configuration also serves in carrying out law enforcement across a state comprising almost 3 million people. “The H125’s power and speed benefit us on every mission,” says Kelley. “But I really like how this platform is so versatile. This helicopter can be effective in multiple roles.”
Having access to local technical support has proven to be a key element in keeping the helicopter up and doing its job. “We had a minor maintenance issue and the response from Airbus Helicopters was immediate,” Kelley says. “They were quick to include other parties who needed to be involved, to get the issue resolved.” And operations get a boost from the DPS’s personal commitment to safety. “We ensure that our pilots and maintenance personnel receive the best training possible and we give them the best equipment to accomplish the mission,” Kelley says. “I truly believe that the training we receive from Airbus Helicopters is paramount in helping us maintain a great safety record.”
Visitors may see the DPS’s H125 at the Airbus Helicopters stand at Heli-Expo 2016 in Louisville, KY, March 1-3.