PSNI Air Support Unit answer questions from the public

  • 17 August 2017

Sgt A from our Air Support Unit spent some time answering questions submitted by the public via social media.  Thank you to everyone who submitted a question and to Sgt A for taking the time to answer them.  The full list of questions and answers are below.

Christopher Allen How do you stop for coffee and donughts in it? No, actually who controls the camera? Is that somebody's job or does the pilot do it?

Christopher, Great question, unfortunately there are no ‘Fly-through’ takeaways so its biscuits and coffee back at base. As for the crew make up, we have a pilot keeping us safe and two Air Observers. One Observer controls the camera; the other provides commentary and guidance to our colleagues on the ground. Sgt A


John Mooney Not a question but huge thanks to your crews. We are very lucky to have such a quality service available when it's required. Keep up the great work.

John, thanks for the kind comments. In all honesty we couldn’t do our job without the fantastic support of our colleagues on the ground. As a cohesive team we aim to work with the communities we deploy out to help. Sgt A


Neal Preston Why don’t you use drones instead of helicopters? Be far cheaper

Good question Neal and to answer in short, we always look to use the most efficient but also most effective aircraft for each tasking. We assess each task on its own merits and deploy the best asset to keep people safe. Sgt A


Tasha Scott What's the strangest thing you have seen from that helicopter

Tasha, there have been a few but one that sticks on my mind was a large brown forty foot inflatable sausage floating gently up past us over the Glens of Antrim. Left us puzzled? Sgt A


Paul Hughes What happens when you’re in the air for hours on end and you need to go the toilet badly?

Paul, we cross our legs extra tight and nobody mentions waterfalls! If that fails we do have a small discreet travel loo, not dignified but it’s better than the alternative. Sgt A


Gwen Mcguicken What is your most popular incident/s for being in the air? And what do you like best about your job?

Gwen, I love the fact our job is so varied and I know we provide huge support to a variety of policing and community issues. Assisting not only our own colleagues but also other agencies to help some of the most vulnerable in our society gives me the most satisfaction and is one of the more regular types of task we attend. Sgt A


Paul Synnott Could we have a way to see what was the reason for helicopter deployment? If there was more communication to let residents know WHY it was deployed late at night, hovering over houses, it may go some way to lower complaints. A twitter handle for Air Support which is updated as soon as possible after deployment / return to base? A PSNI website with listings of recent deployments / reasons?


Thanks for the question and our commitment to keeping our communities informed is always at the forefront of our minds. We will of course try to update our twitter account as frequently as possible but it’s not always that straight forward. We do not monitor the account all the time as our primary work is serving the needs of the entire province, all departments within the PSNI and supporting our colleagues in other emergency services as well as volunteer search teams. There are also the issues with privacy and other community sensitive matters which I am sure you will understand just can’t be put out into the public domain. I will take on-board your thoughts and hope to put more info out to all our followers @PSNIAirSupport . Sgt A


Vicky Wright Once you become a police officer how do you go about becoming an air support officer? From Jonah Wright, aged 7 (budding air support officer )


Great question. Once someone becomes a police officer and completes two years’ service, (their ‘probationary period’) they will be able to apply for special posts. We are one such post and welcome all applicants from within our family of police. They are tested for their skills and are helped along by our training team to make it as an Air Observer. I look forward to seeing your name appear up here in the future. Sgt A



Joel Jess  Can your helicopter really see people running away from a chase? Asking for a mate by the way


Just for ‘your mate’, yes we have the ability to follow not just vehicle but people fleeing. We wish they wouldn’t as they usually endanger themselves as well as other members of our community. But if they do our expert colleagues on the ground will be speaking to them whether they are out of breath or not. Sgt A


John Miller What was the most dangerous situation you found yourself in when flying and what was the end result. What was the most bizarre thing you've seen when flying or attending to a call?


Flying can be, if not properly trained and disciplined, dangerous but I always feel safe when flying. We train for all eventualities, brief tasks thoroughly and debrief each flight when any learning can be identified. Oh yeah, we also have great pilots but sssh don’t tell them! As for the bizarre thing I have seen, well the forty foot brown inflatable sausage I mentioned earlier was strange but sometimes you can never account for odd behaviour of people trying to avoid our gaze! Sgt A



Alex Holgate How long can you stay in the air before having to leave and refuel?

Alex, that’s a difficult one to say and without boring you into implications of temperatures, wind speeds and general weather issues, let’s just say I have had to cross my legs and run to the loo when landing back at base. Sgt A


Sharon McCabe Kerr What can be done to tackle the misuse of these dangerous lazer pens? I personally think they should be banned.


I agree that this problem is dangerous and people need to consider their actions. We have been very active in addressing the problem with internal training in legislation and police powers to deal with offenders but there is more to it. We don’t wish to end up just prosecuting people but would rather educate and prevent. A lot of the time when we catch people the answer they give is they were just having a laugh or didn’t think it was serious? I would like to ask offenders; If their loved one was landing on a plane at an Airport and 10 seconds before they landed the pilot was flash blinded, what would they wish to happen to the culprit? Or and possibly more effective, what’s the chance of flying to a foreign country, which requires a visa, with a criminal conviction for endangering an aircraft?

Thanks for your support Sharon and helping us spread the word. Sgt A


Adam Weir If I was getting chased would the thermal camera still pick me up if I jumped into the cold 6 mile water?


Not sure why we would be chasing you and even if we were, please don’t jump in any river. It would be cold, wet and ultimately highly dangerous for you and any rescuer coming after you. But yeah we would watch and call in all the support we need to bring you to safety, hopefully before its too late. Sgt A


Jenna Gilmour What's the most obscure sight you're seen from the air?


By obscure you may mean strange or bizarre? Then I would ref you to the earlier answers to John and Tasha. If you mean hidden from us, then I guess trying to photograph the pod of dolphins off the north coast proved very challenging but I got some shots for our twitter account which went down well, @PSNIAirSupport. Sgt A


Kathy Wolff Do you have night vision equipment or heat sensor equipment?


Glad to say we have both, gives us a great ability to help those most in need and keeps us safe! Sgt A


kevincarterphotographer Have you had any problems with people flying drones yet?


So far those drone pilots out there in Northern Ireland have been on the whole very responsible and I am glad to say the adherence to CAA legislation around drone usage is excellent. We do have some excellent advice from the CAA for those in doubt and here’s a link to it. Sgt A


andrew.esler Whats the most adrenaline rushing call you's have ever had i.e. High speed car chase etc etc?


I have loved this job since I started and the opportunity it gives me to serve our community from a very interesting vantage point always puts a smile on my face. Every day we are faced with calls to service that can take us all over the province. Each call gives me a sense of excitement to fly but those calls were someone needs airlifted to hospital or are in trouble take on added seriousness and the adrenalin kicks in that bit more. However our training is excellent and through experience we learn to treat each task with the same level of safety to ensure we can complete it. Car chases are also create high levels of adrenaline as we know the carnage and harm that drivers who fail to stop can do to the community and themselves. Sgt A


scottmairs6599 How do you go about getting to work in a recon role in the chopper i.e camera operator?


If I can refer you to my answer to Jonah earlier? Sgt A


cecil_ni Which county is the most beautiful from high up in the sky?


Ah, are you trying to get me in trouble? Genuinely there is something beautiful in each and every county when we fly through them. It’s never lost on me how privileged I am every day to fly serving and protecting. To name but a few of my favourites, I’d have to say the north coast at sunrise or sunset, the Mournes anytime, Fermanagh lakes with the sun shining down, the Sperrins at Sunset and Lough Neagh when it’s still like a mirror. Sgt A


forrest38Where's the stupidest place you've found someone trying to hide with your thermal imaging , assuming you have it ?


You give me a laugh remembering it and although I won’t want to say where or when but watching someone do an Arnie in Predator impression will always stick in my mind!(Showing my age but for those younger than 30 years of age, you can search the internet for it). Sgt A


laurenpottsbarnley Do you ever suffer from vertigo?? The dizzy sick kind?


Very good question and I am glad to say I’m lucky to have never suffered from any motion sickness. That’s not to say some of my colleagues haven’t on occasion but they are professional to the end, even if it means holding a small sick bag for the duration of the flight to get the job done. Not pleasant but the show must go on! Sgt A


victoriarobinson2443 Yes What it like to be up the air


All I can say is, I Love It! Sgt A


danielnoble8833 How would one become a pilot in the police force? I am a helicopter pilot myself and have always been interested in joining the PSNI


Thanks for enquiry and here’s a link to our last recruitment advertisement for pilots- ……bitly the link. I hope that gives you an idea of the qualifications needed. Sgt A


dronepictureseu I am a flyer myself I love anything that flies I have 2 drones which I fly within the law 400ft so my question is there anytime the air support fly under 400ft into my air space

Great to hear you’re enjoying your flying responsibly. I’m not sure where you operate your drones but if ,as I suspect, its outside controlled airspace there maybe occasion you will hear us coming and if needs must we can fly down to 500ft above ground level. With our down wash that may affect your drone but the chances are slim. We can of course legally go lower to land anywhere away from base so if you are flying please be aware of crewed aircraft around you. Here’s a link guidance on safely enjoying your drones. Sgt A