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Directorate of Telecommunications
Police Helicopter Trials (1966-67)

During my last year of service with REME, attached to the Army Air Corps, I was stationed at the what is now called the School of Army Aviation at Middle Wallop in Hampshire. I had recently returned from the Far East, and having sent in my "resignation" I was filling in time before release to the big wide world.

One of the 'odd jobs' that came my way over those last few months was a request to monitor the installation of a police type radio to an Army helicopter, so that the effectiveness of air support could be evaluated.  I am not so na´ve as to think that this was the first attempt to carry out such a study, and indeed, I think I remember reading some years ago that a trial was carried out with the Metropolitan Police between the Wars using an autogiro.  However, we were now in the age of both miniaturised hybrid and total solid state technology and the size and weight of radio equipment had been suitably reduced.

Fitting a radio to an airframe has rather pertinent effects. The installation had to be approved by the relevant Aircraft Inspectorate for safety and balance, yet by the very nature of the trial the primary role of the aircraft had to remain unchanged, and it should be ready to perform its military function at any time. The two-seater SIOUX aircraft itself is of American design, the Bell 47G, and though used mainly for observation work in the British Army, it retained the ability to carry an outside load laid across the landing skids.  This function has been seen to advantage during the opening shots of a popular television series called MASH, where it performs well in its original
CAS-EVAC (casualty evacuation) role.

To balance between the necessary sustainable introduction of a good link into the existing aircraft communications system and the requirement to be able to add or remove the radio communicating with the Police, a split responsibility was introduced. The Army would provide a Pilot/Observer intercom facility and the ability to select, channel change and trigger the police radio integral with the existing aircraft system. This would terminate in an external connection at the skid, and a suitable skid mounting would also be provided. The Home Office Directorate of Telecommunications would provide a radio complete with independent aerial to fit on the skid mounting. This fulfilled the requirement for quick removal for servicing or operational reasons.
The local Home Office Depot  to Middle Wallop was Hannington, then under the control of Andy Holdstock as SWE and Don Cross the Depot CWT. Dusty Miller was the nominated person for the 'Nuts and Bolts' and the radio supplied was the 10 Channel PYE Vanguard.  The set was crystalled up for a number of Police Forces, and the aircraft visited a number of Force HQ in the South and South East.  I nominally flew as 'Greenie' or radio man, ostensibly to provide technical assistance in case of problems with the aircraft side, but quite often doubled as navigator with the pilot's OS map as the aircraft did not have any significant navigational aids aboard; a piece of wool taped on the canopy exterior acted as Turn and Bank indicator.  If it was foggy, we dropped down and looked at the signposts!

I remember visiting Lewes, Guildford, Oxford and Winchester.  On arrival, a nominated police observer would climb in and jolly around for a while, then drop him off and we would fly back to base. On the Winchester visit, the observer proudly told us that that the aircraft had followed a mini-cooper down the A34 road, and then called up a patrol car to pull him over for a speed warning.  When the driver of the mini complained that he had not seen a chase car, the patrol man just pointed up into the air!   On return to base, a small orange cut-out of a mini car was placed near the pilot's door to notch up our 'kill'.

On completion of the trials the aircraft reverted to normal, but I understand that the flight at Netheravon provided some further future and more formal support for the police service in the following years, whilst Police Air Support gathered momentum based on the feasibility trials carried out. As for myself, well, I was finishing with the military, and was close to Hannington. Andy Holdstock offered me a job as a Technician and I started work for the Home Office Directorate of Tels in August 1967.

During my last year or so with the Home Office,  before leaving in 2000, I was tasked with another short helicopter trial,  this time checking out MASC at UHF. The ranging and height trials took place with Avon and Somerset Police using their purpose fitted All Weather Squirrel aircraft from Filton. This carried a standard aircraft radio system, a police radio system and a number of other items such as powerful lights, an air to ground video, and a GPS.  Driven by gas turbines, it was a far cry from the 4-cylinder supercharged petrol engine of the old SIOUX, and a darn sight more comfortable too!

Progress in all directions - but I still think driving one of those things is like learning to ride a bicycle placed on a jelly!

Brian Hill
23rd November 2004

Acknowledgement: Brian Hill

page updated: 22/07/19


A Sioux Helicopter (Bell 47G) from the Army liaison flight at Netheravon, shown at Surrey Police HQ Mount Brown, Guildford, with Sgt Brian Hill (70 Aircraft Workshop, AAC Middle Wallop) assisting a police observer at the start of the Surrey preview trial.

The Aircraft carried a full military radio installation, and in addition carried a Home Office supplied Pye Vanguard 10 Channel VHF Radio from Hannington Wireless Depot as a temporary fit on the starboard stretcher position.

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