Among the H125, H135 and H145, around 810 helicopters are in service in law enforcement, contributing to Airbus’ nearly 60 percent share of the global law enforcement fleet over the last 10 years. Below, a look at the airborne police units of Las Vegas, Japan and Germany, who are at the service of community and country in specially-equipped helicopters.
Up on the mountain
The helicopter’s shadow flits across the desert, where Joshua trees stand like old men over clumps of creosote. It’s still cool and snow lies in valleys on Mount Charleston. The crew of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s air unit, or Metro, point the nose of their H145 toward the area where a hiker has slipped and sustained injuries.
“We transfer from the scene to medical transport,” says Steve Morris, Jr., Metro chief pilot. “The medevac companies won’t go back in the canyons. And they don’t have a hoisting ability, so we’re called to transfer from the scene.”
The canyon where the hiker is waiting lies in shadow, its 90-foot walls V-shaped. The H145 hovers while the hoist operator lowers his crewmate to the canyon floor. Wind bends the trunks of junipers, their branches an obstacle for the orange-suited officer; he tugs the yellow rescue sling out of their way as he descends.
The crew of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s air unit in an H145 helicopter. Airbus has more than 800 helicopters in service in law enforcement with the H125, H135 and H145, contributing to Airbus’ nearly 60 percent share of the global law enforcement fleet over the last 10 years.
The medevac companies won’t go back in the canyons, and they don’t have a hoisting ability, so we’re called to transfer from the scene.
- Steve Morris, Jr., Las Vegas Metropolitan Police chief pilot
Las Vegas Metro operates six helicopters, deployed 80% of the time on patrols in support of ground officers. In August 2017, they became the US’s first police agency to take delivery of an H145, for mountain rescues. It’s also used for quick reaction force deployment, as during the 2017 Rock ’n Roll Marathon, where “we had it ready, staffed and staged,” says Morris. “We flew overwatch over the events with the team in the back ready to deploy.”
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police watching over the city of Las Vegas in an H145. Airbus has more than 800 helicopters in service in law enforcement with the H125, H135 and H145, contributing to Airbus’ nearly 60 percent share of the global law enforcement fleet over the last 10 years.
A few minutes pass, with everyone concentrated – the pilot on the instruments, the hoist operator’s gloved hand on the line to guide his crewmate in. The altimeter reads 9,047 feet mean sea level (MSL), with the H145’s twin engines maintaining a steady hover. The rescuer rises into view, supporting the hiker in the sling.
“The rescue at Mount Charleston was high,” says Morris. “We’ll get some higher-density altitude ones in the summer, when it’s over 112o F (44o C).”
In Japan, you’re as likely to see police officers paying a house call on an elderly resident, as see them chasing down a criminal. The country’s view of society and community defines the role of law enforcement in a number of ways. And far from the high-rise apartments, the country’s coastline requires a different sort of intervention, as police maintain a lookout for illegal trafficking and threats to national security.
The H135s are based in Hokkaido, Tokyo, Saitama, Osaka, Fukui, Kochi, Tokushima, Fukuoka and Miyazaki. Two more will enter service in 2018 in Kumamoto and Wakayama prefectures.
To meet the aerial needs of Japan's National Police Agency (NPA), around 80 small and medium helicopters are used, of which 10 H135s and 10 Dauphin H155s are seen patrolling, providing aerial support to ground forces, performing electronic surveillance or helping in disaster relief.
Operating above crowded cities – Tokyo’s 13.7 million people fit in 2,193 km2 (847 sq-miles) – presents challenges to law enforcement squads. In the nine prefectures where H135s are in use, sound issues are kept to a minimum—the Fenestron tail rotor doing the job of “keeping the peace” between police and residents.
The H135s are also used for commercial passenger transport.
Japan’s police also train extensively for disaster relief, critical to a region at the mercy of earthquakes and tsunamis. Domestically, the NPA is tasked for natural disaster response—the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami are a recent example.
In 2018, two new H135s will enter service in Kumamoto and Wakayama prefectures, loaded with equipment for a variety of missions. A radio for traffic control, a GPS system, a hoist and fast-rappelling system, and a host of cockpit features designed to enhance the aircraft’s flight safety will aid officers as they “protect life, person, and property.”
In Japan, you’re as likely to see police officers paying a house call on an elderly resident, as see them chasing down a criminal.
The new H135s, which will arrive in 2018, will be equipped with Helionix avionics.
Flying low over the historic centre of Stuttgart, Germany, the police of Baden-Württemberg have set off in their H145 on a search for a missing person—a retirement home resident. Frost dusts the ground in Stuttgart’s gardens. The two pilots with systems operator, Christian Daxkobler, reach the area where the man is thought to be and begin scanning the bushes with an electro-optical system. “The thermal imaging camera allows us to spot details we simply couldn’t see with the naked eye,” says Daxkobler. “And even if someone is partially obscured by branches and leaves, we can still detect them by their heat signature.”
Seated in the H145’s rear cabin at a station with a 22-inch screen, Daxkobler – who’s been with the unit for four-and-a-half years – can analyse the images in real time while relaying them to the police dispatch and patrol cars. The H145 has an image-stabilised, high-definition camera. Used with the searchlight, the crew members are able to build a complete picture.
“We’ve seen an increase in these sorts of callouts in recent years,” says Martin Landgraf, deputy chief of Baden-Württemberg’s police helicopter unit. “The H145 is a state-of-the-art police helicopter we can use to support our colleagues on the ground.”
Last year, we successfully located 62 missing people, all still alive, but people who might well have died without the help of our police helicopter unit.
- Martin Landgraf, deputy chief of Baden-Württemberg’s police helicopter unit
Since 2016, Baden-Württemberg’s police helicopter unit has been operating six H145 helicopters in Stuttgart and Söllingen, where 72 people are on call 24/7. In 2017, they flew over 2,600 missions, enforcing Germany’s concept that police should operate in close cooperation with the community.
In addition to searches for missing people, the unit undertakes flights for environmental protection, the documentation of severe accidents, manhunts, and surveillance. “Saving lives is our top priority,” says Landgraf. “Last year, we successfully located 62 missing people, all still alive, but people who might well have died without the help of our police helicopter unit.”
The H145s of the Baden-Württemberg police are versatile multi mission police helicopters.