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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Police Glass: No Longer Just ‘Big Boy Toys’

By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large

Elsewhere in this issue of Rotor & Wing you may have read my piece on synthetic vision systems (SVS). As I was compiling it, the point was driven home that glass cockpits rule the day. Sure, they all have a primary display containing basic flight instrumentation, such as an airspeed indicator and altimeter. But it’s the other portions of the system that can be tailored to the needs of the operators purchasing them, like air phones for traveling executives, or software that maps the locations of oil rigs for offshore missions. As you can imagine, many available features could be pretty good for law enforcement work, too.

To begin with, all of the manufacturers I spoke with said that it’s cheaper to have glass installed in the aircraft when you order it. (And we all know that saving money on the front end of a helicopter deal will always make the sheriff or chief a happy camper.)

How much cheaper it’ll be has everything to with what how much you want to outfit your aircraft with, of course. But any amount is good.

And then there’s space for stuff.

I have flown light and medium police helicopters, but the light, single-engine turbines were the ones I flew the most. And they proved to be the most difficult to outfit when built around steam gauges, especially in the years between the late 1990s and the early 2000s.

Once the panels were stuffed with analog dials and radios, separate monitors had to be mounted on brackets all over the place to handle a moving map here, a GPS there, and a storm scope somewhere else. It all looked pretty high-tech back then, considering just 15 years earlier air patrol “technology” consisted of a handheld police radio and a set of binoculars.

Were glass cockpit displays available in the early 2000s? Yup. But they were “big boy toys” found in jets and corporate turboprops.

The times, however, have changed. Now, a police helicopter with glass specifically setup for law enforcement work is more common and way more practical. There’s a lot of information that can be placed on a couple of multi-function displays (MFDs) that only a police flight crew can appreciate.

VIP transport pilots want to pull up en route charts, weather radar images and approach plates, but generally couldn’t care less about flying to the 2100 block of Main Street in Anytown, USA, let alone help eight black and white cars with antlers on top set up a perimeter around it.

A police crew, however, needs a sophisticated moving map that will show addresses, structure shapes, and owner records. And if that crew has to cover a very large area, like an entire state, a sectional chart overlay is great. As for weather radar; well, any police pilot would like real-time storm information laid over a chart or surface map. So, why not get all of that from one panel-mounted MFD?

And then there’s the hot item that you may have heard about from following the Malaysian airliner situation: data gathering.

Police fleets are usually pretty small, so we need to know when our aircraft have to go down for service, what will have to be fixed, and how long it will take to get it back on the flight line. Digital health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) can be digitally displayed on an MFD, and that information – plus a whole lot more – can now be transmitted directly to the manufacturer of your aircraft.

Why should you send HUMS information to the helicopter manufacturer instead of just your own mechanic?

Because when a manufacturer can monitor the condition of every aircraft in a model line, its engineers can, for example, spot a subtle engine problem in serial numbers 0008-0023, give those owners a call, and tell them what repairs to make long before those powerplants go quiet in flight.

So, it seems to me that only good can come out of glass cockpits in police helicopters. They’re cost effective, they allow you to put more technology in the same amount of space, and they can certainly improve crew efficiency and safety. Check them out before your next upgrade or purchase!

Related: Police News

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