Fairfax County police recently replaced their older helicopters with two new Bell 429 helicopters.
The older choppers were 10 and 14 years old. Police spokeswoman Lucy Caldwell said 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 and low visibility weather by instruments only.
The new helicopters are able to get anywhere in Fairfax County in just over 6-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. Police said the department responds 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,” Caldwell said.
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, Caldwell said. While contributing to the fund, the FCPD planned to sell both of its old Bell 407s. An agency in California has purchased one of the older models from FCPD.