A Day in the Life of NPAS
During the early hours of the morning, the oncoming day crew take over from the night-shift and they prepare for a 12 hour tour of duty. The pilot checks the weather then briefs the crew on any relevant issues including ones that could affect where the aircraft can fly throughout the day, such as air displays/large balloons/cranes etc.
The rear seat TFO is responsible for the deployment of the aircraft. At the start of the shift they check through any tasking requests that have been received, and ensure that the rest of the crew are fully briefed on these pending tasks.
The pilot then examines the aircraft ensuring that it is fit to fly and has no visible faults. This intensive check takes at least 30 minutes to complete and includes examining the engines, rotors, body work, tail and all pipes and hoses to ensure that there are no leaks or identifiable hazards. Whilst the pilot checks the aircraft, the two TFO’s check the police equipment inside the helicopter (video camera, mapping, digital camera, radios etc) before testing the base fuel system, ensuring that the fuel is free flowing and has not been contaminated with water or dirt. On completion of all checks, the crew load their kit into the aircraft and they are ready to fly.
When the aircraft is despatched to an ongoing incident, the crew jump into the aircraft and the pilot goes through the start-up procedure. Both TFO’s bring their own police systems online quickly then assist the pilot with his pre-takeoff checks. Shortly after the aircraft lifts into the sky above Wakefield where the pilot liaises with Air Traffic Control (ATC) and informs them of the aircraft's destination. Once given the all clear to fly, the rear seat TFO gives the pilot a heading and distance to travel to the destination using the onboard mapping system. Whilst en-route, the front seat TFO assists the pilot by monitoring the instruments and watching the skies for other aircraft. Meanwhile, the rear TFO liaises with ground units or the local control room and gathers more information on the task they are flying to. If a fault should occur with the mapping system, the rear seat TFO always has the local map book open and ready to refer to as a backup.
On arrival, the pilot positions the aircraft in the best position for the crew to carry out the task that they have been requested for. The front seat TFO will begin using the video camera, and the rear seat TFO will direct the aircraft and/or police resources on the ground until the incident is successfully resolved. Some of the tasks that we regularly attend are searching for suspects or missing people, incidents involving police firearms units, vehicle pursuits, officers chasing a suspect on foot and thermal or photographic tasks.
On completion of the task, if the aircraft is required elsewhere, the rear TFO will update the crew on where the aircraft will be needed next and why. The pilot will update ATC before heading towards this new incident and the front TFO will continue to act as a second pair of eyes for the pilot. On arrival, the cycle starts all over again until there are no more incidents to attend.
A single flight could consist of just one incident, or the aircraft could be deployed to numerous tasks anywhere throughout the north east of England before landing back at Wakefield.
After returning to base, the pilot will walk around the aircraft, checking to make sure that it is still safe to fly. The front seat TFO will refuel the aircraft so that it is ready to go as soon as it is deployed to an incident. The rear seat TFO will head into the office and record where we have been and what we have done. If we have witnessed anything that may be required for a prosecution at court, the video footage is copied from the aircraft flashcards onto a secure computer server and then DVD’s of this footage are produced.
The crew continue like this throughout the entire shift, grabbing a bite to eat or a warm drink whenever they can. No two days are ever the same, every day is different. We don’t know what is “just around the corner”.
At the end of a long day when their shift is done, they gratefully hand over the aircraft to the oncoming night-shift and the process starts all over again!