Victoria Police have finally taken delivery of the first of three Leonardo AW139s fitted with high-definition cameras and infrared technology to read number plates from the air.
The helicopters join one new Beechcraft Super King Air 350ER at the air wing base in Essendon Fields.
The new AW139s can reach speeds of 250km/h, fly for 1,000 kilometres without needing to refuel, and can also land atop police headquarters on Spencer Street, which opens later this week.
The force hopes the purchase will allow the hours flown by the air wing division to rise from 300 to 500 per month.
Air wing Inspector Craig Shepherd said, “The camera system allows us to zoom in and pick up registration numbers from a long distance, which enables us to fly a long way from the target and to provide support to the ground.
“For example, if you provide me with a location at 21 Smith Street, we’re able to type that into the system, the cameras will automatically slide to the target. And while you’re flying in that direction, the camera is on task.
“So we have advanced technology – with clear vision, high-definition capabilities – that is far more advanced than what we have now.”
The purchase is part of a huge $63 million investment by the government to increase of capabilities of Victoria’s air wing, which is called to around 5,000 jobs a year.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said, “Often families and victims are left on the side of the road for a very long time while we get MCIU squads out there.
“This enables the whole squad to get out there very quickly without having to refuel anywhere in Victoria. That’s about improving the service we can offer to people in really traumatic situations.”
In April, Australian Aviation reported on how a AW139 nearly crashed searching for a fishing vessel at night.
An ATSB investigation revealed that an aircrew officer shouted “Climb! Climb! Climb!” as the helicopter “lost control of vertical speed” and dropped to just 31 feet above ground level.
However, a “reversion to standard patter and practice drills” allowed the crew to recover, despite vision also being affected by bushfire smoke.