The new ‘Police Air Force’

October 9, 2012

How  the UK’s new Police Chief is promoting the civil use of drones amid pan-European calls for UAV liberalisation.

This month sees the launch of the National Police Air Service (NPAS) a new cross-boundary cost-saving venture that joins all of the UK’s regional police air capabilities into one umbrella organisation – in effect a new national police air force. The objective of the NPAS is to allow faster, cheaper and more efficient coordinated helicopter response across the country

“Artificial boundaries have meant that helicopters are restricted to operating within their own force area or consortia. A truly national, borderless service will ensure effective coverage of urban and rural areas. NPAS will provide the deployment of the nearest available aircraft and have reserve aircraft available when aircraft are offline for maintenance.”

ACPO lead for NPAS Alex Marshall**

NPAC has twenty-five helicopters stationed in 23 bases across the country run from a single control centre at the existing West Yorkshire Police building in Bradford (which, incidentally  makes it a tempting and vulnerable target for comms jamming). As well as helicopters and fixed wing aircraft the NPAS  will take over policy and control of UAVs and surveillance drones. As police budget cuts increase pressure to find cheaper alternative to manned helicopters, attention has focussed on surveillance drones as a potential solution to aerial policing and surveillance. However, Any major policy shift on the deployment of UAVs would require removal of current regulatory stumbling blocks – Civil Aviation Authority rules restrict the effective use of police drones: unlicensed pilots can fly drones – but only if the drone weighs less than seven kilograms, stays below 122 metres, and remains within line of sight of the controller, and be kept away from built-up areas and airports…which effectively renders them useless.  UK Police Minister Damian Green

The recently appointed Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice Damian Green*, a right-wing tory MP and enthusiastic champion of outsourcing police services (despite the G4S Olympics fiasco) has already called for the private sector to take a greater role in police work and is actively promoting the civil use of UAVs :

 “Every pound saved means a pound saved to be used on the front-line, putting officers on the streets.  I want more officers to be out there getting on with the job of fighting crime – we all know they can’t do it if they are bogged down with red tape.” “Drones are like any other piece of kit – where it’s appropriate or proportionate to use them then we will look at using them. We should be looking at different ways of providing air support in the future that don’t involve putting humans up in the air, but the public need to find it acceptable and it needs to be within the law.”

At the same time a European Commission group has put forward proposal for an EU wide standard for civil drone use ” Towards a European Strategy for the Development of Civil Applications of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems”  allowing police forces and border agencies to coordinate and standardise policy – and importantly, remove current CAA restrictions to drone usage. The group (‘The unmanned air systems panel‘) argues the necessity for a pan European UAV policy to cope with the expected boom in drone production and deployment. The document speculates that within the next decade drones will become commonplace in civil airspace and plans for European skies to be open to drones by 2016. The document speculates that drones will have numerous uses ranging from “precision agriculture, power/gas line monitoring, infrastructure inspection, communications and broadcasting, wireless communication relay and satellite augmentation systems, natural resources monitoring, media/entertainment, digital mapping, land and wildlife management, air quality management, disaster management, crisis management, law enforcement, border control and firefighting” but as with any new technology the final use can only be guessed at: “(the drones abilities)will quickly spread among potential users, creating new markets of aerial services in the same way that the iPad created an entirely new and unpredicted market for mobile data services”

D-Dalus prototype 2012

Development of UAV technology is accelerating following increased interest from civil and military authorities. New designs such as the D-Dalus (above) are aimed at producing drones that can fly longer, silently and be less vulnerable to attack. The D-Dalus a fan wing derivative drone uses internal ‘cyclogyro’ turbines rather than standard exposed rotors. this enables the vehicle to fly more efficiently and almost silently:

“D-Dalus is a completely new aerial vehicle shown first time at the Paris Air Show in 2011. “D-Dalus” combines the advantages of helicopters with those of fixed wing aircrafts, stays stable in the air, rotates about all three axis at 360 degree, has the ability to land on moving platforms like boats in rough sea thanks three-dimensional synchronization and glue down by reversed thrust. “D-Dalus” need in forward flight 30 to 60 % less power compare to helicopter because vertical thrust is created by its high lift and low drag wing body design. At the heart of “D-Dalus” aircraft propulsion system lies a “cyclogyro” rotor assembly that converts power from a conventional motor into a forced airflow across aerodynamic blades. The propulsion consists of 4 sets of contra-rotating disks, each set driven at the same rpm by a conventional aero-engine. The disks are surrounded by blades whose angle of attack can be altered by moving an offset point located inside the hollow axis of the rotating disks. As each blade can be given a different angle of attack, the resulting main thrust can be in any required direction in 360° around any axis. This allows the aircraft to launch vertically, remain in a fixed position in the air, fly in any direction, rotate in any direction like a football, and thrust upwards thereby ‘gluing down’ on landing.”

“We’re looking at how you hide in plain sight”

Another approach to UAV design is to hide by appearing as familiar objets, these include sci-fi-like insect micro-drones; tiny miniature disposable drones that mimic insects and birds:

“A group of smaller surveillance drones called NAV (nano air vehicles) or MAV (micro air vehicles) already have been commissioned:  mapleseed drones; sparrow drones by 2015, dragonfly drones to fly in swarms by 2030, and eventually a housefly drone.  And if the reconstruction of nature doesn’t pan out, nature itself can be hijacked using electrical impulses to create cyborg surveillance insects being studied at major universities.”

Hummingbird drone

“Earlier this year researchers at AeroVironment unveiled a hummingbird drone, the Nano. Although still a prototype, its rapidly beating wings can propel the tiny aircraft at 11 miles per hour and even perch on a windowsill.”



* Yes, the same Damian Green who had his house raided and was then arrested by the police in 2008 for “conspiring to commit misconduct in a public office”

**A description of Alex Marshall from one of his own officers:

“This is the inept backstabbing Alex Marshall that I served with as a sergeant in the Met. Did everything possible to get off the streets or have anything to do with the front line. If there was a ‘Squad’ for something that got him off regular shift work, he was always first in line! He was also known as TinTin in those days and was regularly being asked where Snowy was. He must have the brownest nose at ACPO.”


Links and sources

One Response to “The new ‘Police Air Force’”

  1. Steve Scutt said

    I wonder if they’re using Arduino boards? … lol…x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: