Air Support Unit
Helicopters are the eyes in the sky for police officers
across the UK.
Air Support is provided by the National Police Air Service
(NPAS) using helicopters based throughout the south east of the
The helicopter based at Boreham is located right in
the centre of Essex, providing a rapid response to
officers on the ground. It also flies to neighbouring forces when
required, and has a whole host of gadgets on board to help police
search for suspects, vehicles and missing people quickly.
The Air Support Unit’s current helicopter was made in 2002 by
Eurocopter, a European helicopter manufacturer based in Munich.
After being modified for use as a police aircraft, it was delivered
to Essex Police where it became operational a year later.
The aircraft, an EC-135, is based in Boreham at an airfield
originally built in 1943 as a World War Two base for the US Army
Air Force. After the war it was turned into a motor racing track
where Stirling Moss among other drivers is known to have raced.
Cruising at 130 knots or 145 miles per hour, the helicopter can
be called upon to look for vulnerable missing people, offenders who
have made off from the scene of a crime and suspect vehicles.
The onboard gadgets include a thermal imaging camera, a
spotterscope with a highly powerful zoom, a search light to
illuminate large areas, a public address system and an onboard
mapping system to help crew navigate to a specific address.
You can find out more about these gadgets in the video
As well as looking for people, the helicopter can be called upon
to look out for stolen cars and pinpoint suspect vehicles including
those that are thought to have been stolen, have no insurance or
are linked to crime.
To do this the helicopter has an onboard automatic number plate
recognition (ANPR) system that uses optical character recognition
to read number plates and highlight crimes associated with the
vehicle. It also has a device to pick up signals activated by
trackers fitted to stolen cars.
Police Air Observers also use the helicopter to take aerial
photographs and video recordings of scenes of road collisions to be
used as evidence in court proceedings. Live footage can be
transmitted to the Force Information Room at headquarters to help
in the allocation of resources.
As well as being used for evidence, aerial photographs also help
officers plan operations and the policing of big events such as the
You can see one of the air observers in action in the video
If you’re interested in the police helicopter and would like to
find out more about how it helps keep the counties safe you
can follow it on Twitter. The helicopter has its own channel
@NPAS_Boreham which is