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On the ground and in the air with the Air Support Unit’s new twin-engine Bell 429 helicopters. Photos: NZ POLICE EAGLE CREW

Coppers in choppers

The Air Support Unit based in Auckland has been through a few changes this year – a fleet upgrade and a new base in Onehunga.

Working with the Eagle team is a sought-after position within Police and turnover is low, but recently it has been actively recruiting.

Sergeant Callum Young spoke to Police News about what it takes to be considered for the job and the difference that the new equipment – three brand-new twin-engine Bell 429 helicopters – is making to their work.

How many staff do you have and what are the qualities needed to be part of the team?

Our small unit consists of two sergeants and 14 constables.

A misconception is that you need aviation experience or search and rescue experience to apply. This is not the case. The qualities we look for are good decision-making, excellent eyesight, competent swimming ability, ability to multi-task, cable orienting from above and, importantly, not being prone to motion sickness. The rest we can teach.

What have the new equipment and location meant for the Eagle team?

Our upgraded helicopters are a huge advancement in equipment and technology. We can fly faster and safer and stay up longer, bringing our unique level of protection to the community in a more efficient and effective way. The new navigation software enables the crew to focus more on what’s happening on the ground, rather than what’s going on in the cockpit.

Our new location is fantastic. Although we’ve lost our view of the Waitematā harbour that we had at Mechanics Bay, our new digs are a place to be proud of, and our remote location in an industrial area better serves the needs of the community.

Is there anything that makes it easier to track fleeing drivers?

We have a new navigation system that enables our rear crew person to focus more on what’s going on outside the cockpit. This is a game changer as it significantly increases the time we can actively search and monitor from above. A common misconception of airborne policing units is that all of our searching/tracking is done with our surveillance sensor/camera. In fact, most of our initial locates are done with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.

Eagle now has the capacity to fly from Auckland to Wellington without refuelling… has that been done yet?

We’ve not had the opportunity to fly to Wellington yet with our new aircraft, but when it comes to helicopters and endurance, it’s all about the weight. So our flight times and available distances can vary. If we happen to be flying to Wellington with extra weight, we may need to touch down for 10 minutes to top up the tanks; if not, it would be straight lining all the way.

The new choppers can carry more people… how many compared with the old AS355 Squirrels?

A tricky question, as people come in all shapes and sizes. In our last aircraft, we had 1.5 seats available for passengers and no internal cabin space for storage. In our new aircraft, we have up to four passenger seats when we’re operationally equipped, or seven if we configure it for transport. To date, we’ve flown with eight people on board.

Training crewman Constable Tristan Kewene.

What’s more annoying – laser strikes or complaints from Remuera about the noise of Eagle flying overhead?

Well, laser strikes are definitely more dangerous… We’ve had several strikes over the years and, speaking from experience, it is not a comfortable situation to find yourself in. We can only hope that the message gets across to the idiots that shine lasers at aircraft before their actions cause a loss of life. The same goes with reckless drone pilots who are arguably a bigger threat to aircraft these days.

When it comes to our friends from Remuera, we’re big enough not to get annoyed with the odd few who aren’t interested in public safety and we will continue to serve all our communities to the best of our ability.

If you’re interested in working with Eagle, contact Callum, callum.young@police.govt.nz.

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