Police aviation in the United Kingdom

Police aviation in the United Kingdom

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 light aircraft such as the Britten-Norman Islander. A light aircraft 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 with less fuel consumption.


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.


*In 1990, a police sergeant was killed when a police Bell Jet 206 helicopter crashed in bad weather at Eastwood Toll, Newton Mearns, Glasgow.

*On 17 February 2002 the three man crew of a Strathclyde police helicopter survived a crash in an 18 month old Eurocopter EC-135. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/1826661.stm Police helicopter crash 'miracle'] BBC News, 18 February 2002]

List of police aviation units

The following is a list of Police Aviation units in the UK and the forces or areas to which they are assigned.

The following forces have no full-time police aviation cover, although most will hire in aircraft when required.
* Cumbria Constabulary
* Central Scotland Police
* Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary
* Fife Constabulary
* Grampian Police
* Lothian and Borders Police
* North Yorkshire Police
* Northern Constabulary
* Tayside Police

ee also

* Air Ambulances in the United Kingdom

* [http://www.ukemergencyaviation.co.uk UK Emergency Aviation] Police Helicopter Information & Gallery


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