The first of two multi-role Bell 429 light twins delivered to the Fairfax (Virginia) County Police Department helicopter unit is already logging long hours with demonstrably better performance than the 407 it replaced, according to tactical flight officer (TFO) James Greeves, a 13-year veteran of the unit. “It really has been a game-changer for us,” he said. Compared with the 407, the 429 can insert into tighter landing zones and arrive on scene more quickly. Crews are seeing speeds of 144 to 146 knots despite the added drag of the external searchlight and camera. At 72-percent torque, the helicopter still makes 134 knots while burning 440 pph.
Fairfax received its first 429 on December 30 last year, and since then the helicopter has averaged more than 100 hours per month. Fairfax’s helicopters are configured by PAC International to fly law enforcement, medevac and long-line missions. The helicopters are equipped with the standard Bell 429 glass cockpit, Becker DVCS6100 digital audio system, Avalex moving map, L-3 Wescam MX10 forward looking infrared (Flir), Trakkabeam A800 searchlight and a full medical transport suite. Fairfax dispatches with one pilot and two cross-trained paramedic/TFOs. The front seat TFO is responsible for scene navigation and communication with ground units while the back-seater operates the Flir. The department currently has six pilots and 11 TFOs who work 12-hour shifts. Teams can self-dispatch based on their own judgment or when requested.
We have a saying, “Helicopter delayed is helicopter denied,” said Greeves. “The quicker we can get over a scene, especially in a quickly evolving criminal case such as a bank robbery, the more value we have to the officers on the ground.”
To help make that happen, Fairfax has its own dedicated operation (26 Victor Alpha), at the base of “Mount Trashmore,” a landfill site strategically located near the major traffic intersection of Route 66 and the Fairfax Parkway. Located just inside the Dulles surface air traffic control area, the department has a special agreement with ATC that allows it to traverse and exit the area without voice contact. Approximately 90 percent of the unit’s work is law enforcement and most of the remainder is scene medevac work. Fairfax County is located on the west side of Washington, D.C. It has a population of 1.2 million and encompasses 400 square miles. The Fairfax County police department has operated a dedicated helicopter unit since 1983, originally with a donated Enstrom before progressing onto Bell 206s and 407s. It is the only U.S. law enforcement agency currently operating Bell 429s.