National Police Air Service (NPAS)


You can follow us on twitter @NPAS_Newcastle and @NPAS_TeesValley





On November 6th 1962, Durham Constabulary commenced limited Air operations. The Chief Constable Alec Muir CBE was the chair of the ACPO research committee and as such used Durham Constabulary as the pioneer force to use a helicopter in support of policing operations on the ground. The aircraft used at this time was a Yellow Brantley B2. The aircraft did not have any role equipment (No video camera, searchlight, or thermal image) The Observer relied upon a pair of binoculars and a handheld Police radio. The helicopter continued to operate until early 1964.

In 1989, Northumbria Police created the Helicopter Support Unit based at Newcastle International Airport. At this time, two aircraft types were trialled individually – a Eurocopter Bo105 Bolkow and an AS355 Twin Squirrel.



The early days of the unit saw incidents filmed using a hand held video camcorder. Shortly afterwards, role equipment began to be used in the form of a stabilised video camera in a ‘pod’ with attached thermal imaging camera.





In 1995, The North East Air Support Unit was formed as a consortium of Cleveland, Durham, and Northumbria Police and in addition to the Squirrel aircraft, a fixed wing Islander aircraft was purchased based at what was then Teesside Airport (Now Durham Tees Valley).

In 1999, a Eurocopter EC135 T1 was purchased to replace the AS355 Twin Squirrel. This EC135 T1 was the first aircraft of its type to reach 10,000 flying hours in the world!




In 2009, Durham and Northumbria continued as NEASU when Cleveland formed their own Air Operations Unit. At this time the NEASU aircraft was changed to a more advanced aircraft - the EC135 T2.

This aircraft has more advanced equipment. On average the helicopter is in flight 1100 hours each year and can be deployed in support of specific incidents and operations, such as searching for suspects as well as carrying out lifesaving tasks.

The Unit

Based at Newcastle International Airport, the unit is comprised of an Executive Officer (Police Sergeant) and a Deputy Executive Officer (Police Sergeant). Nine constable air observers and a police staff air observer drawn from both Durham and Northumbria form the duty crew for NEASU. All observers are highly experienced and are qualified and examined annually to a national standard. 5 highly experienced commercial pilots, all former military, are employed by an aviation contractor to provide piloting of the aircraft.

​What do we do?

The NEASU aircraft operates 24/7 subject to weather and maintenance.
It provides air support to Durham Constabulary and Northumbria Police areas and departments. It also provides services to a number of agencies including:

Fire services
Ambulance and Paramedic services
Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC)
Search and rescue teams.

The aircraft is used for a number of operational activities from assisting in apprehending offenders to transporting injured people to hospital. Typically, the helicopter assists in:

Missing Persons

The helicopter is regularly involved when there is a report of a missing person who could be vulnerable or in danger. It is able to cover a large area, assisting units on the ground. The thermal image camera is a valuable tool that can be used to locate heat sources.





Vehicle pursuits

Air support will be requested to attend if a vehicle pursuit is reported. In these situations the aircraft's observer will provide valuable information to police officers on the ground who can intercept the vehicle and bring the pursuit to a safe conclusion. The air support unit will also provide video evidence which may be used in court in the prosecution of offenders.



Tracking suspects

Whether it is searching for a robbery suspect, a burglar or a car thief, the helicopter can help find the offender and liaise with officers on the ground to pinpoint locations. This can be extremely useful in areas where there could be dense undergrowth. Often if a heat source is identified, a dog handler will take instruction from the helicopter to investigate.



Public order

Using the aircraft’s downlink instant pictures can be taken from the air at events attended by large numbers of people. The helicopter has been used at football grounds in Newcastle and Sunderland as well as other popular events including music concerts to monitor crowds and assist with public safety.






Photographic tasks

All of the aircraft’s observers can take digital images of scenes of incidents which could provide the investigation team with important evidence.
The air support unit provides images of premises or areas of terrain which can be used in court proceedings or to brief officers on the ground. It can provide images of scenes of crime, road traffic collisions or serious incidents.

Airlifting of Specialist Units and Casualties

The aircraft is also required to provide transport to a number of types of passengers. The aircraft can often transport specialist officers such as police dog handlers to incidents or areas that maybe difficult to access on foot or by road.




Members of emergency services, such as paramedics, can also be transported to the scene of an incident to assist in treating casualties. The term 'Casevac' is used when the helicopter is used to transfer people to hospital by air. This can be vital for casualties who need urgent medical attention.




Frequently asked questions

Below you will find some frequently asked questions about the helicopter:

Q. How fast can the helicopter fly?
A. This depends very much on the type of operation the helicopter is conducting. Although it has a maximum speed of 155kts it will often cruise at around 120-130kts. This means that it can cover two miles every minute.

Q. How long can it stay in the air?
A. This will depend on the type of operation the helicopter is conducting and what equipment it is carrying. The helicopter has a maximum endurance of three hours.

Q. How often does it have to be serviced?
A. As helicopters are mechanically complex aircraft servicing is essential. The helicopter receives maintenance inspections every 100 flying hours. More major checks are carried out after 400 and 800 hours of flying. The aircraft is also subject to an annual inspection.

Q. Why are police helicopters the colour they are?
A. The helicopter is painted in a way so that it can be seen by other aircraft when flying. The yellow shows up against the ground to an aircraft flying above while the dark blue contrasts against the sky to an aircraft alongside or below.

Q. Does the helicopter have a registration number, like a car?
A. Yes, every aircraft has a registration number. The registration for the North East Air Support Unit is G-NEAU and can be found next to the tail rotor which is enclosed and called a fenestron.

Q. How much fuel does it use?
A. This depends on the type of flying the aircraft is conducting. Hovering on hot summer days will use more fuel than carrying out slow orbits. On average the aircraft will use 237 litres of fuel per hour.

Q. How can I find out why the helicopter was flying over my area?
A. Incidents / Events in the Durham Constabulary area can be found on our dedicated Twitter feed  @Durpol_copter on a relatively real time basis.

Q. Is the helicopter allowed to fly over residential areas at night?
A. Yes. The helicopter is a useful resource in the dark, particularly with its thermal imaging equipment which allows the crew to see at night into inaccessible areas. Crews do try to keep noise to a minimum, especially at night over residential areas, and will leave the scene of an incident as soon as possible. The crews provide a service to operational officers and the public and the decision to call out the helicopter is always taken seriously to ensure that a proportionate response is applied, day and night.

Eurocopter EC 135T2 Useful information

Make ​ Eurocopter​
Model​ EC 135 T2​
Engines​ 2 x Turbomeca ARRIUS 2B2​
Output​ 606 Shaft horsepower (shp)​
Maximum weight​ 2835 kgs​
Overall length​ 12.16 metres​
Overall height​ 3.35 metres​
Main rotor diameter 10.2 metres​
Fuel capacity​ 710 litres
Maximum Speed 155 knots / 178 mph​
Maximum range 300 miles​
Maximum endurance 3 hours​
Maximum operating altitude 10,000 feet​