Air support - National Police Air Service

The police helicopter has become a familiar sight patrolling the skies of South Yorkshire.

‘SY99’ flew into the area in December 2003 at a cost of £4m and served South Yorkshire Police until the introduction of the National Police Air Service on 1 April, 2013.  

From 1 April, 2013, air support in South Yorkshire will be provided by the National Police Air Service (NPAS).

In April, 2012, the Home Office mandated that police air support would be provided by a national service.

The focus of NPAS is to deliver a more cost effective service, balancing the need to save money in a challenging economic environment against the need to ensure the police has a quickly deployable asset that can be used to tackle crime and protect the public. 

Under the NPAS arrangement, the aircraft previously owned by the Force remains at its base in Sheffield and provides cover for the county during a ten-hour peak period, 365 days a year, however the aircraft is now property of, and staff are managed, by NPAS. During the remaining 14 hours each day, the county is served by aircraft from neighbouring NPAS bases in West Yorkshire, Humberside and Derbyshire.

The arrangement means the county has access to 24-hour air support with cover provided by neighbouring NPAS helicopters at times when the South Yorkshire based helicopter is unavailable.


What is the helicopter doing above my house?

If you have ever wondered what the police helicopter was doing above your house or workplace you can now find out by following some of the helicopters that cover South Yorkshire on Twitter.


Many people associate the sight and sound of the police helicopter with car chases and criminals on the run, thanks mainly to ‘cop’ shows on TV. However, the pilots and observers play a vital role in reducing antisocial behaviour, gathering intelligence and locating vulnerable missing people, as well as apprehending suspects on the run.


A bit about the aircraft

Model: MD 902 Explorer

Colour:   Midnight blue and yellow, chosen because the contrasting colours increase flight safety

Top Speed:   140 Knots or two miles a minute

Equipment:   Tracker, Wescam MX15, Skyshout 700 public address system, Nitesun, NOTAR system



SY99 is equipped with a tracking system that can be used to track stolen vehicles. The system has been adopted by most police forces in the UK and is most commonly found in patrol cars although the system is equally effective, if not more so in the helicopter. The system works by tracking a signal that is transmitted by a concealed device inside a vehicle.

Wescam MX15

Beneath the nose of the aircraft is the Wescam MX15 observation system, equally effective day or night. It houses two daylight cameras and one thermal imaging camera, which capture video images that are then displayed on colour monitors within the aircraft. The camera system, while the most expensive part of the aircraft, is among the best in world. It is used to search open areas, both rural and urban, not only to trace offenders but to locate missing persons resulting in numerous lives being saved. 

Skyshout 700 public address system

Although not regularly used, the Skyshout public address system can be invaluable when important information needs to get to large numbers of people on the ground. It can be used during missing person seaches, or floods without the aircraft having to land.


The Nitesun is a powerful lightbeam attached to the underside of the helicopter. The power of the light emitted is equivalent to 30 million candles. The beam is used to illuminate areas that are in darkness and is vital when searching for missing and vulnerable people. The beam can be adjusted to a very wide or narrow angle and can be steered through a wide vertical and horizontal radius.


If you have seen SY99 you may have noticed that the unlike conventional helicopters SY99 does not have a tail rotor system. Instead, it is equipped with a NOTAR ducted fan system, which means it is up to 50 per cent quieter than helicopters fitted with tail rotors. It also means that the aircraft is safer for air and ground crew.