Police Pilots Want the Latest in High Tech

 - February 14, 2012, 4:51 PM

FOCUS on…LAW ENFORCEMENT

This year at Heli-Expo there were plenty of examples of helicopters dressed up with law enforcement credentials of every flavor, but it took a keen eye to spot what was new equipment on these hard-working machines. For 2012, companies brought avionics, airborne computer location equipment, air-to-ground microwave receivers and sophisticated, high-power searchlights.

Gardner Aviation Services, (Booth No. 4110) a PAG Company based in Peachtree City, Ga., near Atlanta, has been retrofitting law enforcement helicopters with effective, cost-efficient EFIS technologies. The company has installed several Garmin 500 retrofits, plus TCAS and TIS in several law enforcement helicopters, as well as the economical Aspen Avionics 1000H modular EFIS, which drops right into existing holes in the instrument panel.

The Garmin retrofit runs $28,000 to $40,000, while the Aspen EFIS can be installed for $18,000, according to Karl Gardner, president.

Why do they upgrade? “It’s the safety features,” he said. “They are flying around at 500 feet or lower, and EFIS gives them tower and terrain information, and for some, traffic information,” he continued. “With these retrofits you take a reliable airframe and catapult it into the 21st century. We did a Bell 407 this past year, as well as the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department’s AS350 panel with a Garmin G500 and Garmin 530.”

The LAPD has also been swapping EFIS systems in its 2009 model AS350B2, located at the FLIR booth (No.3305), according to maintenance manager and pilot Pat McNamara.

“We are unique in law enforcement in that we order our helicopters completely green, stripped down to the bare minimum. We decide what mission capabilities we want to have, and we try to find the right fit of equipment to do the job we need. This year we’ve changed out the Sagem EFIS for a Cobham EFIS, and we now have an Aerocomputer moving-map system that is just fantastic,” he said. “We wanted a turnkey proven system, and that is why we went to the Cobham EFIS. We manage 475 square miles and the way we used to do it was literally with a map book. The Aerocomputer allows our officer to simply type in the address of the radio call and it gives us coordinates and guides us right to the house where the call came in from.”

At the Cobham booth (No. 3122) we found the Helicopter TX System, which consists of a standard-definition or high-definition camera installation in the helicopter, and a portable microwave receiver to be used by the law enforcement on the ground to transfer the video signal from the camera on the helicopter to the pursuit personnel on the ground, so that they can see what the airborne officers are seeing. Cobham offers several renditions of this system, ranging in price upwards of $80,000.

Around the corner at Booth No. 3017 we discovered the Trakkabeam A800, the first searchlight with stabilization. The A800 uses a xenon lamp half the size of traditional searchlights and is the only searchlight with internal, selectable filters including infrared, amber and red. But the gyro-stablization on the A800 truly sets it apart, if you ask Shawn Mitschelen, vice president of business development for Trakka Corp.

“As the aircraft pitches and yaws, the initialization of the system corrects for all the movement of the aircraft. That way the searchlight stays on target,” he said. There are 130 A800s currently installed on aircraft. They are on J-Hawks for the U. S. Coast Guard, Black Hawks for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and AS350s for Customs as well.