It is quickly becoming law enforcement’s new Crown Victoria.
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan unveiled it Tuesday: the Airbus AS350 B3E, also known as the H125.
Exponentially more advanced than the classic Ford Crown Victoria patrol vehicle, the department’s latest aircraft is replacing a 12-year-old helicopter.
“This is one of the most important functions we have as far as our Special Operations Division,” Jordan said. “The helicopter provides a secondary apprehension tool; it provides a search tool.
“We use it for everything from chasing real, real bad guys to hunting lost kids.”
Tulsa police have two of the choppers now, the newer 2019 model and a 2013 Airbus AS350 B2. The Oklahoma City Police Department also has two of the Airbus AS350s.
While the skyline view at 700 feet above the ground may be gorgeous, it’s the technology inside and on the $4.3 million helicopter that stands out.
At any time, the tactical flight officer can touch a section of his monitor in front of his cockpit seat and overlay the city’s street names, addresses and more over whatever image the camera attached to the bottom of the helicopter is revealing.
”We’re a force multiplier,” Sgt. Nick Cory said. “We don’t have to have officers walking around in a field searching for someone.”
Field officers, instead, can set up a perimeter and tactically search for a fleeing person, Cory said. A police helicopter can be used in conjunction with other tools, such as K9 officers, to locate a person hiding in thick brush, for example. One air unit, which consists of a pilot and a tactical flight officer, is worth about 12 units on the ground, police have said.
The technology limits the need for street pursuits. Instead of having officers engage in a potentially escalating and dangerous chase with a fleeing vehicle, police can use the helicopter to easily — and safely — track the vehicle from above. Then, when the fleeing vehicle stops, its location can quickly be relayed to officers on the ground.
While that was also true with previous helicopters, the imaging technology on the recently acquired Airbus helicopter is about 15 years ahead of the 2007 Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger it is replacing.
The new Airbus is equipped with a greater optical zoom and high-definition infrared and visible light sensors.
“It’s kind of equivalent to watching a tube TV versus a flat screen,” Cory said. “That’s the definition and clarity difference this new system will provide us.”
Jordan said the Air Support Unit “does things that nothing could replace,” including unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones. Drones cannot keep up with a helicopter’s air time or air speed, police noted.
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