Thanks to a national law enforcement program operated by The Center for Rural Development, the Somerset Police Department has become the first law enforcement agency in America to test and evaluate the Italian-made gyroplane, and only the second U.S. law enforcement agency to use this style of aircraft for police operations.
Through an agreement with the Small, Rural, Tribal and Border Regional Center, a component of the National Institute of Justice’s National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system, the Somerset Police Department has the gyroplane at its disposal at no cost until the end of July for police activities.
Following the testing and evaluation period, the department can choose whether it will fund the aircraft and continue aviation operations.
Activities to be undertaken with the gyroplane during the testing and evaluation period include traffic enforcement, search and rescue, traffic flow monitoring during special events, aerial photography, and counter-drug operations.
Because of the gyroplane, a city the size of Somerset with just over 11,000 residents now has capabilities primarily available in larger, more metropolitan cities, according to Acting Somerset Police Chief Major Doug Nelson.
“This partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice, The Center for Rural Development, the Small, Rural, Tribal and Border Regional Center, and the Somerset Police Department gives us the ability to see how an aviation program will work for us,” Nelson said.
Smith, who has 12 years of aviation experience and 1,950 hours of flight time in 20 different types of aircraft, will fly the gyroplane to help protect Somerset’s critical infrastructure from natural or man-made hazards.
Though similar in appearance to a helicopter, a gyroplane does not have a powered rotor. It instead uses a free-spinning rotor to generate lift, called autorotation.
The rotor is kept spinning by wind forces, and the thrust from the gyroplane's engine and propeller allows it to take off and land on a runway like a traditional airplane.
Once airborne, it can reach speeds of up to 100 MPH. It can also appear to hover with slow to no forward speed while slowly descending.
A traditional police helicopter costs anywhere from $500,000 to $4 million fully equipped, and operational costs can average over $1,000 per hour. In contrast, the Magni gyroplane costs about $110,000 and about $40 an hour to operate using regular gas just like a car.
"It didn't take long for us to realize the advantage gyroplanes give law enforcement agencies that don't have large budgets,” Nelson said. “Their low purchase price and low cost per hour makes them ideal for any public safety agency."