The Fairfax County Police Department recently replaced its older helicopter units with two new Bell 429 helicopters.
The older units were 10 and 14 years old. According to the Public Information Office for FCPD, aviation technology has gone through major changes over the past decade, and the newer helicopter models are safer, more reliable, faster and quieter during travel.
The Bell 429 helicopters have built-in safety redundancies such as twin engines IFR certification, which allows it to fly in foggy/low visibility weather by instruments only. These features will be safer for the pilots, the crew and residents and motorists on the ground, according to the police department.
The new helicopters are able to get anywhere in Fairfax County in 6.5 minutes — a minute faster than the older models — and travel up to 172 miles per hour. The newer models’ redesigned rotor system results in half the noise level of the Bell 407 units. This feature was important, considering 60 percent of FCPD operations occur during nighttime hours.
FCPD currently has six pilots and 11 tactical flight officers working 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day. According to the FCPD Public Information Office, the department responds each year to between 2,000 and 3,000 calls for service — from flying severely injured accident victims to the hospital to helping locate missing children or dementia patients.
The FCPD began an “aircraft replacement fund” in 1995 and invested a portion of its annual budget into the fund since that time.
“When you know it’s for something you need, it just made sense to set the money aside each budget period,” said Lucy Caldwell of the FCPD Public Information Office.
The base cost for the new units was $5.3 million, with about $650,000 for completion. There was no additional outlay of county nor agency monies for these aircraft, according to the Public Information Office. While contributing to the fund, the FCPD planned to sell both of its old Bell 407s. Currently, an agency in California has purchased one of the older models from FCPD.