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ALEA 2011: Autogyro debuts in the sky over Texas

22nd July 2011 - 9:46 by Tony Osborne in New Orleans

The first US law enforcement autogyro is generating impressive results for the police department operating it, according to those familiar with the aircraft.

The Tomball Police Department in Texas have been using the German-built Auto-Gyro MTOsport autogyro since March on patrol missions above the city, north-west of Houston.

The machine is being used to patrol public events, follow vehicle pursuits and monitor critical infrastructure.

Don Plant of Harris County Sheriff's Office has flown the machine and says everyone is impressed with the aircraft.

'We have had congressmen, reporters and other police pilots up in this aircraft and they have all come away impressed,’ Plant said.

'It's ideal for police departments who are finding they cannot afford to run a helicopter but want to retain their air support unit.'

The cost of the autogyro comes in a $76,000 with hourly costs of around $45, including fuel and maintenance – a tiny fraction of the costs associated with a typical helicopter.

The aircraft is flown with a pilot up front and a tactical flight officer in the back who uses a zoom camera to see what is going on below, while a radio keeps them in touch with officers on the ground. The force is investigating the potential of fitting an EO/IR camera to the autogyro.

The autogyro was purchased through a Department of Justice (DOJ) aviation technology project, which is investigating low-cost options for law-enforcement aviation.

The DOJ provided $40,000 in funding to Tomball PD to buy the aircraft and also granted additional funding to train pilots and tactical flight officers training for the department's Air Support Unit.

The chief of Tomball PD, Chief Robert Hauck, is a former Los Angeles police officer who realised the benefits of air support in LA and wanted to bring them to Tomball.

'There was no way we could have afforded a helicopter,' explained Plant.

'Yes, it has its limitations, it limited to VFR operations and we can't fly at night, but citizens appreciate having an eye in the sky.'

The results of Tomball PD's operations with the autogyro will be studied by the DOJ over the coming months.

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