WEST Yorkshire Police's latest helicopter has notched up 10,000 missions in the last three years.
The helicopter is now one of the busiest air support units in the country.
On its first day on February 13, 2001, the MD 902 Explorer's maiden police flight was to the Leeds United versus Anderlecht football match at Elland Road.
The helicopter cost around £3.3m - including all its on-board equipment.
It has no tail rotor which makes it a lot quieter than the previous police aircraft but more powerful.
West Yorkshire's first helicopter, a Messerschmidt Bolkow 105 DBS, became airborne in December, 1989.
John Whittaker, head of air support, said: "One of the helicopter's massive benefits is its capability for searching.
"In a Home Office experiment, various search targets were laid out which were all found within 12 minutes by a police helicopter. It took 454 hours for those on foot.
"It is a very effective search tool saving man hours for other tasks and would actually cost the force more not to have it.
"Both engines can be operated within 90 seconds so the crew can get anywhere in the county within 12 minutes. The average response time to a job is just under six minutes. It is a necessity."
In one incident the crew searched for bedding which had been dumped only minutes before by a suspected rapist from the scene of his crime.
Mr Whittaker said: "We found them within a minute of the search, which meant the senior investigating officer had important evidence from an early stage which could be preserved.
"Units which would have spent time searching for this were redirected to other parts of the inquiry."
Each flight is manned by a pilot and two police observers.
The officers operate a powerful daylight and thermal imaging camera. These pictures can be used as evidence in court and also be beamed down to control rooms and control vehicles. The helicopter can now receive pictures too.
Mr Whittaker added: "During the Bradford riots in July 2001 we flew over the scene and down-linked the action pictures to commanders who were making decisions. But we couldn't send them the ground perspective. That was a lesson we learned.
"Now we can receive pictures from cameras on the ground and, acting like a big aerial in the sky, send both pictures to the commanders who can put both stories together.
"We flew continuously for several hours at the riots, stopping only to refuel. "
Film from the police helicopter was used as evidence to convict many rioters.
To assist with searches and public order situations, a 30 million-candle spotlight can light up an area as wide as two football fields from 500ft above. This power can also be channelled into a spotlight.
During the night, the thermal imaging camera shows up heat differences which can help pick out a suspect.
Mr Whittaker said: "If you were flying over a field and someone was camouflaged in the same colour, officers could switch to thermal imaging and the shape would stand out as clearly human."
Up to the beginning of this month the helicopter had flown for 3,368 hours - an average of three hours and 18 minutes a day in the air.
Capt Andy Hall, who is one of the most highly-qualified pilots in the country, teaches and examines the other pilots.
IN three years, the helicopter has:
* Followed 1,656 vehicles.
* Made 2,580 searches for suspects.
* Searched for 939 vehicles and found 630.
* Helped at 579 firearms incidents.
* Assisted at 248 public order incidents.
* Resulted in 984 arrests and helped at a further 452.
* Recovered property valued at £145,050
* Recovered vehicles valued at £4.3m
A RECENT day on patrol:
11.05am Leeds - crime photographs.
1.05pm Leeds - youth with air rifle found.
1.40pm Bradford - motorcycle failing to stop.
3.20pm Leeds - helipad training.
4.05pm Leeds - robbery hotspot patrol.
4.50pm Leeds - stolen caravan located and recovered.
5.49pm Huddersfield - search for vulnerable missing person.
6.10pm Bradford and Leeds - testing and training.
7.26pm Halifax - testing and training.
7.35pm Bradford - vehicle failing to stop and two people arrested.
7.52pm Leeds - vehicle failing to stop and police vehicles stop following due to danger. Suspects found.
8.46pm Leeds - motorcycle failing to stop.
10.58pm Leeds - car in a ditch abandoned by its driver. Search for injured people.
11.06pm Ilkley - vehicle failing to stop.
11.24pm Leeds - search for injured people after vehicle overturned.
11.28pm Halifax - vehicle failing to stop.
11.55pm Castleford - aerial search of burgled building.
12.53am Methley near Wakefield - officers chasing suspect on foot.
1.06am Wakefield - area search after ram-raid.
3:01am Gomersal - vehicle failed to stop and a suspect found.