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Directorate of Telecommunications
Skyshout (1976)

Police Review (Skyshout Article)

"............... and then, in early 1976, it was noticed how much more the Emergency Services were using Helicopters.

At an informal Communications Seminar, some of the Fire and Police Forces who used Helicopters, including Devon and Cornwall Police who had a contract for a full time helicopter from Colt Aviation. D&C Police, with the longest coastline and extensive Moors in the country, were one of the first Forces to use a Helicopter on a full time contract (at what was considered by some to be the exorbitant price of 80 per flying hour).

The Fire and Police Forces that had used Helicopters carried a Police or Fire Observer who used a standard land mobile radio adapted for Helicopter use. Brian Hill’s interesting “personal recollection”, describes some early Army Trials in the Radio Tests for Police Forces.

While the Seminar seemed content with radio communications, the feasibility of a PA (Public Address) system was considered. It was said that PA might help in a Hostage Situation, Major Accident, Evacuation, Crowd Control, and Search and Rescue. The outcome of the Seminar was that D.of Tels was invited to investigate the feasibility of providing a PA facility for Helicopter use. The topic was passed down the “Line” until it ended up with me. And so the “SKYSHOUT” Project was born.

Although there was no formal User Requirement, the Objectives of the Project were clear:
  1. Obtain or Develop a PA System for Helicopter use
  2. Conduct Trials and Demonstrations
  3. Produce a Report or Resume with Recommendations

By definition, PA sound is to a wide audience, but for Helicopter use, it seemed to me, it needed to be more highly focused. A survey of the Commercial Equipment available did not produce any suitable equipment.

I went to see Lt. Col. Sandy Hewson who was our MLO (Military Liaison Officer) at HQ. He put me in touch with a Project Officer in MoD who was in the process of updating the Army’s ALS 27 Helicopter PA system. Initially I thought it would be a good idea to join with MoD in a combined development. I changed my mind for two reasons, one, there was no end date for the MoD work, and two, the army requirement was to mount the loudspeakers at right angles to the aircraft and at 45degs down. This was at the time of the “troubles” in Northern Ireland and the Army Helicopter could not “hover” for fear of being shot down. So, to keep the loudspeakers focussed on the target, the Helicopter would fly round in circles with the speakers at right angles, pointed at the target. Our requirement was different in that it was said that the Police or Fire Observer and Pilot needed to “hover” and speak directly to the target.

I went to see Ch. Supt Vic Royal who was our PLO (Police Liaison Officer) at HQ to see if he knew of any Forces abroad who used Helicopter PA. About two weeks later he told me PA equipment was used in Germany. This was at the time of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. It seemed that the West German Border Police, who are a separate force from the main police force, used Helicopters with a PA systems to deter or detract would be infiltrators, mainly from East Germany. The PA. TV 450 equipment was made by the German firm Wandel and Goltermann. I contacted the firm and the Border police and asked for a demonstration. They were pleased to arrange a demonstration, “but at Stuttgart Airport”. Eventually approval was given for Fred Buxton from Current Engineering, Roger Fudge from R & D, and myself to attend.

We arrived at Stuttgart Airport where one of the Border Police Helicopters was based. We met the crew with smiles and handshakes and then the first cock-up of the day occurred. Fred, Roger nor I could speak German and we, perhaps arrogantly, thought the demonstration would be in English. The police crew couldn’t, or wouldn’t speak English, and we hadn’t even mentioned the War, although one of the crew was old enough to have served in the Luftwaffe. Never- the- less, the demo. started. The Helicopter hovered at different heights giving messages and statements that we wished we could understand, although we did have an interpreter. It then flew in circles and towards us and away, all the time giving a running commentary.

Front Cover

Front Cover

German Police Helicopter

German Police Helicopter

UK Army Helicopter

UK Army Helicopter

Group Photo

Group Photo

D&C Police Helicopter

D&C Police Helicopter

Click on appropriate thumbnail to view the enlarged image

The best we could do was to judge the clarity and signal to (helicopter) noise ratio but we felt it was enough, coupled with the apparent police operational success with the equipment.  And then, after many smiles, handshakes and “dankers” a visit to the Wandel and Goltermann factory at Reutlingen was arranged. This was to check on build quality and QA. We gave a provisional order, to be confirmed, for two systems to be delivered to London.

After the equipment arrived, it was back to Sandy Hewson to see if he could help. He arranged for me to visit the Army Air Corps Helicopter Trials Squadron at Middle Wallop.

They were extremely helpful and arranged for one of the systems to be temporally installed in a Gazelle Helicopter. I listened, in English, to a short series of PA messages from the Helicopter Crew and decided it would be worth more trials, which could lead to a full demonstration in due course.

Parallel to this I contacted Devon and Cornwall Police and Colt Aviation to see if they would like to take part in a second trial with the other system. While they were enthusiastic, there were significant problems with the CAA because a commercial aircraft was to be used. The aircraft designer and manufacturer would have to be involved for each type of aircraft. This could cause significant delays and costs whereas, in the case of aircraft owned by the operator, the Army, Border Police, etc. they can do pretty well what they like within regulations and authorised safety limits and so, installing a PA system was not a big problem for them. I eventually got approval for the system to be installed on the D&C Police Colt Helicopter and initial trials were again successful.

At about this time PSDB (Police Scientific and Development Branch), at Sandridge, said that they thought Helicopter PA should be their responsibility as it was not a D of “Tels”. topic. There had always been a friendly rivalry between D of Tels and PSDB on a number of occasions in the past. They said they had a very “bright light” under development called “ Night Sun” for use with Helicopters and that PA should be a part of it. I went to PSDB to discuss the issue. It was an interesting meeting.

Incidentally, while I was there, I was told about the three full size Pigs they had bought from a local Abattoir and had buried at different depths in different parts of the PSDB compound. The idea was to see how the earth and vegetation changed colour and texture over time. These changes might be identified from a Helicopter using the early version of Thermal Imaging. This is because Pigs and Humans are very similar, as a mass, and lost people who were buried, might be found. All very interesting but we eventually agreed that really PA was in the wider remit of D.of Tels responsibility for “communications”.

I now arranged for wider “in house” PA trials to compare the Wandel, Goltermann equipment with the existing Army ALS 27 equipment.

You can see from the photo the two systems installed on the Army Gazelle Helicopter. The results were successful enough for an agreement that a full demonstration should be arranged and that all interested Forces should be invited

The full Demonstration, under the command and control of Ch. Supt. Vic Royal, took place on the 26th July 1977. The location was the evacuated village of Imber on Salisbury Plain. Imber is a very strange place. There is a Church and Graveyard where people are allowed to return once a year to pay their respects to their departed. There are roads and houses with gardens that need frequent repair and refurbishment. At all other times it is the training ground for soldiers, and others, in house to house fighting, hostage taking etc. It was the ideal location to demonstrate PA from a Helicopter in the Command and Control of a number of different situations. There were some 40 very senior police and fire officers and other interested organisations that attended and the results were considered a success in identifying the potential use of Helicopter PA for the future.

So all that remained was for me to write up the results as a resume and await a formal “User Requirement”. This would come from ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers). I produced a “Resume” in December 1977, and, up until 1984, when I was posted as a Grade 7 to “M” Division in Queen Anne’s Gate, and later as Head of the Home Office O&M Branch, I never did see the User Requirement.

I took early retirement in 1991 but before I left I made one last enquiry as to a User Requirement but to no avail.

Anyone who has experience in R & D projects will know the old adage, shared by some in the medical profession, “ the Operation was a Total Success, unfortunately the Patient Died”. It is only in the last few weeks that I have spoken to a neighbour, whose son is an Inspector in Sussex Police, who have a full time Helicopter, about Helicopter PA. He must have been about 10 years old in 1977 but he said, “ Oh, you mean SKYSHOUT, which prompted me to write this “personal recollection.  I have to say that I have not heard SKYSHOUT myself for some 30 years now.

John W. Maloney
5th October 2007

Acknowledgement: John Maloney

page updated: 17/08/23

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