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Aug
07
2023

Swedish National Police - Flying Over the Land of the Midnight Sun

Posted 320 days ago ago by Admin

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Sweden is a gem among Europe’s nations and its the largest amongst the Scandinavian ones. It is a country with unique Nordic charm, an incredible archipelago made up of over 24,000 islands and a land with more than 100,000 lakes. Sweden is a unique blend of tradition and progress. Known for its high standard of living and its developed economy, it also has a strong commitment to social welfare, democracy, environmental sustainability, and nature preservation.

However, do not let the progressiveness of this culture fool you. They live by a special philosophy named Lagom. Translated that means “moderate”—not too little, not too much; just the right amount. Since the days of the Vikings this philosophy has existed. However, the Vikings of old have been replaced by today’s modern heroes – the pilots of the Swedish National Police (SNP) Air Support Unit.  They are the team of expert pilots who keep Sweden a safe and wonderful place to live.


Over Half a Decade

Sweden is a founding member of the United Nations and has always been an active promoter of peace and diplomacy. It has a long history of neutrality and has not been involved in a war for over 200 years. That does not, however, imply that they lack an effective and powerful army and police.

Sweden’s police established an air unit more than half a century ago in 1964 when the Soviet Union’s communist leader, Nikita Khrushchev, scheduled a state visit. Without a helicopter at the time, the Swedish police decided to rent a Bell 47 for the occasion. Shortly after this official visit, the police decided to expand their fleet, by acquiring more Bell helicopters for several bases around Sweden.

Today the SNP Air Unit has five bases dispersed across Sweden and a duty to support the Swedish police with air support. “Our role is to perform and conduct police patrol, search for missing persons, mountain rescue, border patrol, fauna protection and support to other Swedish authorities with air- and sea-rescue, firefighting etc.,” says Thomas Lindell,  the air unit’s flight operations manager.

In 1992, revisions to European regulations mandated the use of twin engines for all-night rescue operations, therefore the SNP had to update their entire fleet. By 2015 the air unit decided to replace all their Eurocopters with Bell 429s. Lindell says, ‘What I like about these helicopters is the low vibration level and the horizontal flight stability. It’s fast and powerful. It’s a typical Bell to fly— smooth in the air and with very direct response to pilot inputs.” Today their fleet consists of nine Bell 429 helicopters and one Bell 206 trainer at their flight academy for their ATO (approved training organizations), taking the new recruits from ab-initio to CPL(H) level.

The maintenance of all helicopters is essential because they are used for extended periods every day. The SNP Air Unit outsources their maintenance to Patria Helicopters AB.

Sweden is a very large country with vast areas to cover so these pilots have to be familiar with terrain, refueling techniques, locations, landing zones etc. Lindell elaborates that this is why one must have served as a police officer for at least three years before applying for a pilot position. “Whether the candidate meets all other requirements and appears qualified, then he or she must take additional exams at the Swedish Air Force. After that, the candidates with the best results are sent to our ATO for training,” he says.

They currently have 35 pilots who fly on a daily basis. Stockholm base operates with three nine-hour shifts that overlap by an hour to offer full 24-hour coverage, whilst the other bases work in regular two-shifts.
 
 Summer Sun and Dark Winters

The “midnight sun” is a natural phenomenon that can be seen in Northern Sweden where the sun never sets in summer, so you get 24 hours of daylight! It can be difficult to get your body adjusted to continual light, but piloting a helicopter in constant daylight is much easier.

The Aurora Borealis,  perhaps better known as the “northern lights,” is the other natural light phenomenon. It occurs in winter when parts of the country are plunged into darkness.
”During these darkest months, being December and January, the daylight hours are short and therefore we fly with NVG (night vision goggles) during certain day shift hours. Fortunately we do not have quite as many missions during that part of the year. Otherwise it is business as usual. It does get a little bit brighter, since the ground is covered with snow,” explains Lindell.

The northern part of Sweden  brings additional challenges. “The mountain region up north has extremely specific weather conditions. Here the weather can change very quickly. One more thing is that large areas are unpopulated,” says Lindell. However, the SNP Air Unit is equipped to handle almost any circumstance. A malfunction severe enough to cause a crash or forced landing in such areas might result in the crew getting stranded for days in inhospitable terrain and harsh weather. Therefore, each helicopter is equipped with an emergency survival kit that includes necessities like a tent and food.


The fastest wing is the Police Wing

The Swedish ground police units are responsible for maintaining public safety and enforcing law on the ground, while the Police Wing or Polisflyget, as the ground personnel call the air unit, can quickly cover large areas and reach remote locations. Together they make a formidable team. Lindell says, “To cooperate with the ground units we have four tactical radios installed. We are performing approximately 4,500 missions each year. The calls for our support are coming in from the command centrals, but a policeman on the street or the (ground) crews respond themselves to what is happening,” clarifies Lindell. He furthermore explains that the air units are constantly listening to their police radios, so if they hear of an incident where they think the helicopter would be of help, they can choose to go, regardless of whether the ground police make a request.

Being part of the air unit surely has pros and cons, but Lindell jokingly says that the one thing that really differs upon arriving at a scene in a police helicopter compared to a patrol car is that you are always welcome.

In the years since its establishment, the SNP Air Unit has completed countless successful missions. With their fleet of Bell 429s Lindell explains that these missions are accomplished easily, safely and effectively as the 429s are equipped with almost everything needed to carry out their missions. Looking ahead Lindell says that although they do have a sufficient number of helicopters for the team, his wish is to replace the old Bell 206B trainer and to acquire an additional two or three helicopters for transportation.

That Swedish saying is “Not too little, not too much; just the right amount.” Yet, the SNP Air Unit does a whole lot more and keeps its Bells actively patrolling the skies to make sure Sweden continues to be a charming and welcoming country.

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