Baltimore City police flight officers Matthew Hart and Cory Gronchowski said the hardest part of flying over a city is finding an emergency landing spot that won’t put anyone on the ground in jeopardy if there’s a problem.
"Where can I go in case of an emergency?" Hart asked rhetorically.
But with the arrival of a new fleet of four new Eurocopter EC 120 helicopters, aka "Foxtrot," they have a little more peace of mind that something won’t go wrong while flying over Baltimore.
In 1998, a police helicopter crashed during a chase killing Flight Officer Barry Wood.
Starting last week, the police department started receiving new helicopters—at a cost of $9.5 million—to replace the fleet that has been in service since 2001. The old helicopters have been disassembled and traded in.
"The airframe is the same. This is the same helicopter as we had before. What’s different is that we have a new camera system and a new computer system, and a rear TFO station for our tactical flight officers," said Lt. Don Bauer, commander of the aviation unit. "Now we have a lot better range on our camera, we can basically fly a lot higher, see a lot more, capture video better."
Bauer explained that it was more cost effective to replace the aircraft because they were coming up on a very expensive mandatory inspection, and that parts on the older aircraft were going to begin to wear out and need to be replaced, making it cheaper to get new helicopters.
"A lot of the cost of the aircraft was the new technology, the camera systems, the computer systems, and the tactical flight officer’s station in the rear," Bauer said. "So those are items that would need to be replaced on the old aircraft anyway."
Bauer said the helicopters make it safer for officers on the street because they have the ability with the new cameras to lock on to a target and stay with them during a chase or a fight with a suspect.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the helicopters have been valuable assets, doing everything from pursuing dirt bikes to finding marijuana grows in the city.