New police minister Nathi Mthethwa says the acquisition of six Robinson R44 Raven II helicopters for the law enforcement agency is part of a build-up of capacity for the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the delivery of the first two rotorcraft, Mthethwa added the machines would add to the legacy of the sporting event as they will also be used in the ongoing fight against crime.
“Although the equipment being procured is essential in terms of upcoming major events, especially the Confederation Cup in 2009 and the World Cup in 2010, it was vital to ensure that the items could be used prior to and after the event for general crime prevention tasks,” Mthethwa said at the SA Police Service Air Wing base in Pretoria West.
“This acquisition forms part of the procurement of various items of equipment to enhance our capacity to secure the 2010 FIFA World Cup in an efficient and professional manner.
“Other specialised equipment already on order include state-of-the-art water canons, body armour, portable cameras, high performance motor vehicles and surveillance equipment,” the new minister added.
“Therefore, the R44 helicopters will be used for crime prevention flights, specialised operations and intelligence-driven operations before the major events, during those events and with a legacy well beyond the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.”
He adds that the police Air Wing currently operate 31 other helicopters as well as a number of fixed wing aircraft.
“At this stage I would like to thank our airborne police officers – pilots, crew and technicians – for their commitment to fighting crime from the sky… I know that our pilots and their crew often risk their own lives when tracking down hardened criminals and are an invaluable asset to the SAPS.
The two Robinsons, as well as the four to be delivered, will be deployed in the various provinces on a rotational basis,” Mthethwa told his audience.
He also explained that the SAPS have been training their own pilots as part of a Designated Pilot Training Programme over the past four years “and that training is conducted in Robinson helicopters”.
The students fly 100 hours on the Robinson before progressing to the larger turbine helicopters of the SAPS.
The R44 Police Helicopter arrives ready for duty with specialised equipment, including an infrared imaging system, a searchlight and a dual audio controller for police radios.
“Once on patrol, the R44 can remain on station for up to three hours when fully fuelled. The powerful engine, coupled with an aerodynamic fuselage, enables the aircraft to cruise at up to 209 km/h. The R44 is a workhorse, able to fly 24 hours a day, seven days a week – ideally suited to police flying demands,” the minister enthused.
“My sincere thanks to all involved in the procurement of these amazing pieces of machinery – I trust that once all six are operational, they will make a positive impact on crime-fighting in South Africa and will prove to be major assets during the best Soccer World Cup ever.”
Police spokeswoman Director Sally de Beer adds that the low operating cost, quick turn around time and the manoeuvrability of the Robinson helicopters “will ensure that the SAPS utilises these helicopters on a frequent basis.”
De Beer says the SAPS Air Wing now operates thirteen Eurocopter BO105 twin helicopters, two Eurocopter BK117 twin-turbine helicopters, thirteen Eurocopter AS350 helicopters and three Hughes 500 helicopters.
“Some of these helicopters are also equipped with FLIR (forward looking infrared) cameras.”