Choppers to curb 2010 crime

The Robinson R44 Raven II, which is now
a part of the South African Police Service
Air Wing. (Image: SA Air Force)

The SAPS already has 31 choppers in
its fleet and is expecting the number to
increase to over 40 by mid-2009.
(Image: SAPS)

Janine Erasmus

The South African Police Service (SAPS) took delivery of two new Robinson R44 Raven II helicopters in October 2008, to strengthen its crime-fighting capabilities ahead of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

The state-of-the-art aircraft, worth R5-million (US$496 000) each, are part of a consignment of six specifically commissioned with 2010 in mind. Armscor, the official procurement arm of the South African Department of Defence, facilitated the purchases from the National Aircraft Company, which specialises in aircraft sales and maintenance, as well as pilot training.

The deal was funded by the SAPS 2010 budget, which has seen more than R600-million ($60-million) set aside for the purchase of equipment relating directly to the Fifa World Cup. The other four helicopters will be delivered at the end of November 2008.

The SAPS is also anticipating the acquisition of at least five Eurocopter BK117 utility and transport helicopters from the South African National Defence Force in the early part of 2009.

According to Minister of Safety and Security Nathi Mthethwa, who presided over the handover, the helicopters are part of government’s 2010 Fifa World Cup capacity-building programme, which is focusing strongly on the air support capabilities of the SAPS.

“This acquisition forms part of the procurement of various items of equipment to enhance our capacity to secure the 2010 Fifa World Cup in an efficient and professional manner,” said Mthethwa. “Other specialised equipment already on order includes state-of-the-art water cannons, body armour, portable cameras, high-performance motor vehicles and surveillance equipment.”

The craft will be based in Pretoria and dispatched to other host cities when necessary. The SAPS will use them primarily for crime prevention, including organised crime, specialised and intelligence operations, recovery of stolen vehicles, and aerial monitoring of major events, allowing police officers to reach crime scenes quickly.

The R44s will also take to the skies for the 2009 Confederations Cup, which takes place in South Africa from 14 to 28 June as a prelude to the big event in 2010. Games will take place in four host cities, namely Johannesburg (Ellis Park stadium, also known as Coca-Cola Park), Pretoria (Loftus Versveld stadium), Bloemfontein (Free State stadium, also known as Vodacom Park), and Rustenburg (Royal Bafokeng stadium).

However, emphasised Mthethwa, all equipment bought will be used before and after the football events for general crime prevention tasks. He added that he expects the new helicopters to make a positive impact on crime-fighting in South Africa and will prove to be major assets during what he described as the best World Cup ever.

Airborne tactics

The SAPS Air Wing helicopter fleet currently consists of 13 BO105 twin helicopters, two BK117 twin helicopters, 13 AS350 helicopters and three Hughes 500 helicopters, deployed around South Africa. The new arrivals will boost the fleet to 37. The defence force acquisitions in 2009 will bring the total number of aircraft at the SAPS’s command to over 40.

The single-engined Robinson R44 Raven is an American-built four-seater that features an enclosed cabin with two rows of side-by-side seating for a pilot and three passengers. The Raven II is a high-performance machine popular with police forces around the world, with its specialised equipment such as infrared imaging, global positioning system and enhanced radio systems.

Studies by law enforcement officials, especially in the US, have shown that a helicopter is the equivalent of at least five ground units in search ability, and gives a tactical advantage during high-speed chases. The various SAPS machines, said Mthethwa, have proven to be one of the most vital and effective tools in the ongoing fight against crime.

“The R44 can remain on station for up to three hours when fully fuelled,” he said. “The powerful engine, coupled with an aerodynamic fuselage, enables the aircraft to cruise at up to 209km/h. The R44 is a workhorse, able to fly 24 hours a day, seven days a week – ideally suited to police flying demands.”

For the past four years the SAPS has been training pilots as part of a Designated Pilot Training Programme. This uses a screening process to designate various SAPS members, including women, from previously disadvantaged backgrounds for training as fully-fledged pilots by the Air Wing. Training is conducted on the Robinson R44 Raven.

Pilots fly at least 100 hours in the R44 until they have enough experience to progress to the larger SAPS turbine helicopters. It is also expected that the new machines will allow the SAPS to train pilots more quickly, with the training period reduced by 18 months, according to Visible Policing Divisional Commissioner Arno Lamoer.

High-tech crime fighting

The new additions to the SAPS fleet are equipped with forward looking infrared cameras. This is a type of infrared imaging system that uses detection of thermal energy to assemble a real-time image for video output. It can be used to help pilots and drivers steer their vehicles even at night or in conditions of poor visibility.

The wavelength of infrared that this device detects differs from that of night vision aids. The device is often fitted to naval vessels, fixed-wing craft and helicopters, and armoured military vehicles. Its military and civilian uses include surveillance, target tracking and acquisition, warning drivers of animals in the road, locating people through walls during fire-fighting operations, and monitoring active volcanoes.

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