Matching aircraft and equipment for best use in LE, SAR and EMS

Stable, powerful platforms with recon package are required for these specialized missions.

New Jersey State Police Sikorsky S76 conducts tactical rappel operation.

In 1995, the air fleets of the Marshals Service and the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) merged to create the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS).

Managed by the Marshals Service, JPATS is one of the largest transporters of prisoners in the world, handling more than 1000 requests every day to move prisoners between judicial districts, correctional institutions and foreign countries.

On average, JPATS completes over 300,000 prisoner/alien movements per year. Sometimes referred to as “Con Air” or “Jail Air,” this airline serves a very select clientele, with most people not aspiring to become a customer!

Police mission-specific equipment

The ALE cockpit has become very advanced technologically. A standard law enforcement cockpit has a thermal imager, downlink equipment, searchlights, night vision goggles (NVGs), moving maps and numerous radios.

If you include the latest aviation-specific items such as collision avoidance, glass displays and headup display, today’s ALE cockpit would make many pilots green with envy.

Since weight is always a consideration in any aviation operation, it is important to define the mission and then equip the aircraft properly. There is no sense in overloading the aircraft with equipment that will rarely if ever be used.


Among the most recognized piece of ALE equipment is the searchlight. Spectrolab, a division of Boeing, produces several types, ranging from a standard model which projects a beam of white light to others that can produce both white and infrared light.

In the latter case the change can be made in flight, allowing crews to use night vision technology and/or white light with ease.

Cameras, thermal imagers and downlinking equipment

Airborne law enforcement has been using thermal imagers for years with dramatic success. Many of us have become familiar with this equipment through reality TV shows such as “Cops.” If a suspect is contained, there is a high probability they will be caught.

Most cameras today are combined day/night and thermal imagers. The flightcrew can toggle back and forth between camera and thermal imager, depending on the mission. If they are involved in a daytime foot chase or vehicle pursuit, the daytime camera can record very persuasive evidentiary video.

London’s Metropolitan Police uses the Eurocopter EC145 as its mission aircraft. Regulations require twin-engine aircraft in all ALE operations.

At night, the thermal image is often the best choice. Among the most exciting developments in recent years is downlinking images to a command center or portable ground receiver.

Police commanders, with the aid of an airborne camera, are able to make tactical decisions and change plans as needed based on real-time information.

If an event, parade or demonstration suddenly takes a dramatic turn, the commander can determine instantly the scope and magnitude of the situation and respond accordingly. One police chief illustrates the advantage. “I usually have to rely on radio transmissions or phone calls,” he says.

“Some people’s description of an unfolding incident might be very different than mine. With real-time video I can form my own opinion.” In just the past year, high-definition cameras have allowed ALE aircraft to produce stunning and clear images.

Products from Axsys Technologies, Broadcast Microwave Services, Helinet Aviation Services and L3/Wescam are excellent platforms, offering hi-def cameras to meet numerous mission requirements.

Cameras can provide such vital information as large crowd estimates and group behavior as well as discreet surveillance from standoff distances. This capability can even be used to look at potential hazardous materials and scenes, transmitting the image directly to a suitcase receive to ground personnel.

Broadcast Microwave Services Law Enforcement & Public Safety Sales Mgr Steve Yanke considers microwave downlinking a technology that can only improve ALE operations. “Video images are really a communications tool.

A picture is worth 1000 words, and video is a universal language,” he notes. Yanke describes the change to a digital signal as the greatest improvement in downlinking over the past 5 years. “Now, with certain limitations, we can go around corners and through walls with a digital signal,” he explains.

Moving maps

Paper maps, while still in service as backups, have largely been replaced with moving map technology. This has proved very useful in perpetrator searches and vehicle pursuits. It is unrealistic to think that an aircrew could know every street within a particular jurisdiction.

Mesa Police MD Helicopter 500N on patrol. Many agencies in the high and hot environment like the performance of the 500N.

Moving maps eliminate this obstacle and become extremely valuable in a vehicle pursuit that leaves the jurisdiction. Flightcrews now have immediate access to aviation maps and street maps.

This means they know precisely what road the suspect vehicle is traveling and can relay this information accordingly. AeroComputers spokesman Mike Thompson believes the next 5 years for moving maps will be exciting.

He notes, “It’s hard to imagine all the technology and information that is combining to produce some amazing products that will give ALE aircraft incredible capability.” Thompson lists 3D mapping and integration with other mapping programs as just a few of these developments.



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