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The Time is Right for More Fixed-Wing Aircraft in Police Aviation
- Airborne Technologies and Pilatus Aircraft are providing the answer.

In order to bring more light in this complex area it is necessary to view the police air support as a system with three parts. First there is the crew of the aircraft and those officers on the ground. Next there is the special roll equipment that includes a powerful video camera- a sensitive thermal imager- geo pointing/navigation system and the associated recording and down linking equipment. The third component is the platform that carries the air-crew and the equipment for their precise role.

PC-6 Integration of Mission Equipment – on Carbon Fibre platform for easy configuration change.

Facing the fact that both the helicopter and the aeroplane is carrying the same crew and the same equipment it is obvious to look closer to the platform when tight budgets dictate to safe costs. Often the perceived advantage of vertical take-off and landing is not even used by surveillance helicopters.

The one advantage The one advantage of the helicopter is its ability to take off and land vertically but this perceived flexibility must be weighed against the many other attitudes required of an aircraft that is to be used in fighting crime. Often the perceived advantage of vertical take-off and landing is not even used by surveillance helicopters.

With the introduction of high performance cameras- position navigation and reliable and secure communications- it is no longer necessary to hover directly over a target to keep it in view or to land to communicate with officers on the ground. With modern role equipment we have now the situation that the aircraft is the more cost effective- the more affordable aerial platform for police air operations.

When equipped with a modern- high performance camera an aeroplane flying at loiter speed / endurance speed may keep observations on a target at long range for several hours and neither the public nor the criminal will be aware of the presence of the aircraft. Not that the aircraft is restricted to surveillance type operations if it is necessary to fly close into a target for example during a vehicle pursuit it can be shown that the airplane in a tight orbit is just as effective as a helicopter in the hover. The statistics indicate that for a vehicle pursuit or when searching for a person who has run away from the scene of crime- the hit rate is the same for the aircraft and for the helicopter. Back in the USA where there are many more aircraft in police service- the chief pilot of the Lee County Aviation Division in Florida is qualified to fly both aircraft and helicopters.

He has the following view: “Two years ago we had an all-helicopter operation. In January 2004 the aviation unit flew more total hours aboard its fixed wing aircraft though it still operates one MD 500 and one OH-6 helicopter.

For surveillance the fixed wing aircraft is unmatched. It’s not going to replace the helicopter but we are getting more hours over the county and that allows us to spend more time in the air without effecting our budget. For the cost of one hour in the helicopter we can get 10 hours in the aircraft. We are actually looking at expanding our personell because of the lower cost.”

The team of Airborne Technologies experienced the same situation in their own operation and in many demonstrations that have been given in fixed wing aircraft with police operators on board used to helicopters. All of these operators have been very pleased by the experience that they could not find any disadvantage sitting in the operator’s seat in front of the operator’s desk on the fixed wing aircraft comparing it to their helicopter work station.

Of course not every fixed wing aircraft can be deployed to surveillance missions. For instance the business jet is a good example for being the worst choice due to no cost advantage and far too high speed. The team of Airborne Technologies has run a marked survey and found the PC6 from Pilatus as a platform which is ideally suitable for this kind of missions. The PC6 has a minimum mission speed of 63 Knots and a payload capability of 650 kilos- together with the super-short take- off and landing capabilities the aircraft fits perfectly these kind of missions.

The PC6 is well known in many military applications but still offers operating costs a fraction of a comparable helicopter. In order to adapt the whole system aircraft and roll equipment to modern requirements Pilatus and Airborne Technologies did a great operation.

Over the years of production- Pilatus has many significant improvements to its PC6. The most significant- is the full glass cockpit (GARMIN 950) and many modifications in order to reduce the operating costs. On the role equipment side Airborne Technologies developed a modulized platform carrying all the mission gear and operator desk.

The mission camera is mounted on a sensor lift retracting / deploying the camera only when needed. For take-off and landing and ferry flights the expensive camera stays inside the cabin protected against environmental conditions. The flaps are now electrically operated and the operator working environment includes screens for the video- for downlink- line of sight as well as satcom downlink and the in the meantime obligatory geo-pointing / navigation equipment besides tactical radios.

With this kind of equipment- surveillance missions can be accomplished with a two-man crew (pilot and operator) but with the PC6 a four-man crew- two pilots- one operator- one supervisor can be on board. One significant advantage of the PC 6 overall fixed-wing platform is the super-short take-off and landing capability which enables the aircraft- like a helicopter- to land on many places next to the scene of observation.

With additional long-range fuel tanks the turboprop offers an endurance of 10 hours at loiter speed. With the well known Pratt and Whitney PT6 engine the helicopter operators will not have a great new impact into the fleet as many helicopters are also powered by this kind of turbine.

More information visit – www.airbornetechnologies.at 

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