A day in the life of NPAS Husbands Bosworth
Monday, 18th January, 2016
It’s 8.45 and the crew of National Police Air Service (NPAS) Husbands Bosworth have been on base for 45 minutes when they receive their first call out to assist Leicestershire Police in locating a suspect from a robbery who has fled into nearby fields. The helicopter is able search large areas of ground a lot quicker than the officers on the ground and has sophisticated thermal imaging equipment to help them to locate people who may not want to be found.
The pilot starts up the helicopter and reports their flight to Air Traffic Control while the Tactical Flight Officers (TFO’s) assist with the pre-take off checks.
Once in the air, the TFO in the front seat maintains communications with the central NPAS control room in West Yorkshire and assists the pilot in looking out for obstacles that may affect their route.
The rear TFO is the tactical commander and is responsible for navigating the pilot to the scene using either a standard map or on-board navigation equipment. They also liaise with the officers on the ground and the local control room to establish more details about the task in hand Once they arrive at the scene, the pilot positions the helicopter so that the TFO’s have a clear view of the fields below. The front seat TFO operates the camera fixed to the underside of the helicopter. The camera can be switched between standard and thermal images and has a 5 mile range, dependent on conditions.
The suspect is located and the TFO’s direct the officers to the bush under which he is hiding. He is apprehended and the crew are updated by the rear TFO on their next job – a casualty evacuation from a serious road traffic accident near Peterborough. The local air ambulance is attending another incident and the NPAS crew are the closest to the area. Although they primarily cover the Midlands area, they can be called out to anywhere in the country if they are the nearest available helicopter to the job. They are quickly at the scene of the accident and the pilot lands the helicopter on the A47 close to the site of the crash. The TFO’s assist the paramedics with putting the injured woman onto a stretcher and getting her onto the helicopter. The casualty and paramedic are safely transported to Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry and then the crew return to base.
The helicopter is only able to fly for a maximum of an hour and a half on a full tank of fuel, using around 300 litres of fuel per hour of flying time and so, on their return, they spend 15 minutes refuelling and re-checking the helicopter whilst having a well-deserved cup of tea and watching the rain clouds rolling in.
Base Manager Tom Coyne said “There is no typical day for us - every day is different. When we come onto shift we don’t know what our day will bring. “The only consistent factor is the daily checks that we carry out. Other than that, we don’t know where we are going to be flying to and what jobs we will be dealing with.
“We attend 7-8 jobs each day on average. We get a great sense of satisfaction when we successfully help the officers on ground and it feels good to know that we have played a part in catching a criminal or saving a life”
Each morning, there are a number of checks that must be completed before they are able to fly. Safety is the NPAS top priority. At 8am, Tom and the 3 crew on the morning shift start their preparations. Each shift is manned by a pilot and 2 TFO’s - serving police officers from across the region. Many NPAS pilots come from a military background due to the requirement for them to meet the criteria of a minimum number of flying hours along with night flying and low flying experience.
The pilot’s first task each day is to check the helicopter, a Eurocopter 135P2+, for any faults and ensure that it is fit to fly. While he is carrying out a thorough check, which takes around 30 minutes, the TFOs complete the daily fuel check to ensure that no water or loose items have got into the tank.
The TFO’s then check the electronic equipment and upload daily data to the on-board computer detailing obstacles that might make flying difficult in certain areas on that day. This could include cranes, wind turbines, hot air balloons and light aircraft. Only once all of the checks are completed and everyone is satisfied is the aircraft ready to fly.
At just after 1.30pm, the crew are called out to another job. The pilot checks the weather on their advanced equipment and makes the decision that, due to the adverse conditions, it is not safe for them to attend. In order to fly, they need a minimum of 300ft cloud clearance and 1km forward visibility. At night this increases to 600ft clearance and 5km visibility. When they are not able to fly, due to weather conditions or the helicopter being unavailable, the team all have different responsibilities to undertake. These include delivering training, resource management, helicopter maintenance and keeping up to date on regulations. Unfortunately the weather does not improve and so the team are grounded for the remainder of their shift.
At 5.15pm the late shift team come in and take over. After a brief hand over, the day crew head home ready to start all over again tomorrow morning.
NPAS Husbands Bosworth is located in a rural area on the border of Leicestershire and Northamptonshire and is one of 4 NPAS bases in the Midlands. The base is currently staffed between 8am and 3am daily but will be moving to a 24 hour operation in February 2016