Da Plane! Da Plane!
Over the years, the NYPD has deployed everything from bicycles to Segways to a blimp. Now, for the first time in 58 years, it’s the proud owner of an airplane, the Daily News has learned.
Federal funds covered most of the cost of the $3 million single-engine turboprop, which carries ultra-sensitive equipment that can detect radiation from the air.
“If we detect a potential dirty bomb in the port, it’s already too close,” said Inspector James Coan, commanding officer of the Aviation Unit. “The plane allows us to detect an anomaly a half-a-day to a day before it reaches the port.”
The plane, used during last month’s UN General Assembly, also carries a camera with infrared capabilities that can send sharp images and video back to headquarters in real time.
The plane can stay in the air five to six hours without refueling, besting NYPD helicopters that can fly for no more than two hours.
The longer air time would allow the plane, for example, to fly over a New York City-bound container ship 200 miles from the city that might have radioactive material aboard.
“The equipment will be able to tell the nature of the isotope and the strength of the isotope,” Coan said. “We then notify the Coast Guard, and they will stop the vessel and board it to locate the source of the reading.”
The Department of Homeland Security provided 75% of the funding while the city kicked in 25%, he said.
With 10 leather seats, the plane is crewed by two pilots and someone to operate the surveillance devices. Fifteen members of the 85-person unit are trained to fly it.
The plan has no NYPD markings to make it less conspicuous, and the department asked The News not to disclose its make, model or tail number.
“We operate it like an unmarked police car,” Coan said.
The NYPD has had its own air force since 1929, when it founded the first police aviation unit in the country, using the planes of the era, Coan said.
“The reason was that pilots from World War I were coming back barnstorming and doing things like landing in Central Park and flying recklessly,” he said.
In 1949, the department added its first helicopter, a Bell 47. A decade later, it moved to an all-helicopter fleet.
“In an urban area, the helicopters had more utility than the planes,” Coan said.
Starting around 2010, Coan began considering adding a plane to the department’s fleet.
“When I first started talking about it, they said ‘Why do we need a plane?’” he said.
He learned that most large municipal and state police agencies have planes. But there was another reason.
With stopping another terror attack after 9/11 a priority, Coan recognized there was a gap in the security net that protects the city, which has one of the busiest ports in the country.
“There’s a tremendous amount of stuff going in and out of the port,” he said. “Defending the port was the perfect application for the plane.”
By the way, the department’s blimp, festooned with NYPD logos, was most notably deployed during the protests surrounding the 2004 Republican National Convention.