Cambs police helicopter celebrates third birthday

THE Cambridgeshire police helicopter s third birthday is more than just a celebration of age. In just three years it can boast of finding 51 missing people and recovering more than �1.5million worth of property.IT WAS June 2006 that the new force helico

THE Cambridgeshire police helicopter's third birthday is more than just a celebration of age. In just three years it can boast of finding 51 missing people and recovering more than �1.5million worth of property.

IT WAS June 2006 that the new force helicopter landed in front of an audience at Cambridgeshire police headquarters.

The onlookers were impressed by the �3.9million aircraft, but would have been forgiven for under estimating the impact it would have in just three years.

To date, it has flown 1,666 hours and searched more than 10,000 sq km of land - that's the size of Gambia, in Western Africa.

Since June 2006, the helicopter has found 51 missing people and located 87 vehicles.

Its use has directly resulted in 308 arrests, and has assisted in making 140 more. It has been involved in 77 pursuits and conducted more than 2,300 searches - whether that's for fleeing suspects, property or missing people.

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The unit is situated at RAF Wyton and from its base, the crew can scramble and be over Peterborough or Cambridge in about seven minutes, reaching speeds of up to 150mph.

And working closely with MAGPAS (the Mid Anglia General Practitioner Accident Service) means paramedics and doctors can be at the scene of an incident within minutes.

It is one of only a few police helicopters in the country with a 'HEMS' certificate - Helicopter Emergency Medical Supplies - which means it can fly medical supplies and medics to the scene of an emergency. The aircraft can also be re-configured to carry patients.

Sergeant Gordon Murray, the deputy unit executive officer, said: "Now that the aircraft is in its third year of service it's still able to deliver the technological support and assistance that is expected of such a unit.

"And whilst I appreciate the Air Operations Unit is an expensive asset within the constabulary, it's an asset that a modern police service can ill afford to do without."

And the statistics prove that. In rural areas the helicopter can search one square mile in 12 minutes. That would otherwise take 454 officer hours on the ground.

Sgt Murray said: "As well as attending 999 incidents, we are tasked by other police units and officers to carry out operational work, in preparation for warrants, or to gather intelligence, for example.

"We do what we call 'smart flying' where we are able to get these tasks completed on the way back from answering 999 calls, which saves the constabulary money and saves on flying time.

"Since getting our current helicopter, we have carried out 441 tasks for other officers and also attended 475 events, such as football matches or large fairs."

In times of flooding the helicopter will be used to photograph flood plains with its state-of-the-art camera. It can also be used to carry out covert and overt surveillance and the footage can be beamed directly to a major operations room so officers on the ground can see what's happening at a scene.

The aircraft also boasts a state-of-the-art sat nav device which communicates with the camera. It means a postcode or street name can be put into the sat nav, and the camera will zoom to that location. Equally, the camera may be looking at a street and the sat nav will know the postcode and house number so officers on the ground can be guided in quicker.

"In three years the helicopter has contributed a great deal to the policing of the county," said Sgt Murray. "It will be interesting to see what the next three years will bring."

Fact File

- The helicopter is an MD902 multi-role aircraft

- It is also used as a flying classroom for pilots and observers and its eight seats would allow an incident commander to use it as an airborne command and control post.

- It was in 1985 that discussions were first held in force about the possibility of setting up an air support unit. In April 1997 the twin-engined Squirrel helicopter was launched. In June 2006 the force acquired the MD902 for �3.9 million.

- 'QH88' is the call sign of the helicopter. It works closely with MAGPAS.

- 'Direct arrests' means arrests that would not have taken place if it was not for the helicopter. 'Assisted arrests' means arrests where the helicopter has assisted.

Helicopter statistics from July 1, 2006 to June 22, 2009:

51 - Missing people found

87 - Vehicles located

�1,583,000 - Property found

10,006 sq km - Area searched

140 - Assisted arrests

308 - Direct arrests (arrests which only took place because of the helicopter's involvement)

2 - Patients carried when a doctor and paramedic have asked to reconfigure the aircraft

80 - Times carried doctors and paramedics to the scene

77 - Pursuits

2,377 - Searches carried out (eg, for missing people, offenders etc)

475 - Flights for events (football matches, large events)

2,443 - Flights in total (several tasks are often carried out in each flight)

949 - Hours flying during the day

717 - Hours flying at night

441 - Tasks from officers such as taking photographs, video footage and helping in the realms of operational support