An Aviation Branch of the NSW Police Department had previously operated between 1946 and 1950.
In 1978 a working party conducted a feasibility study into the use of helicopters by the Police Force. The study examined suitable types of aircraft, back-up equipment, building requirements and the recruitment of pilots and other staff. The study included daily use of rotary wing aircraft for crime Patrols. The aircraft used in the study belonged to other government agencies (Department of Main Roads, National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Electricity Commission of New South Wales) and the pilots from those agencies were accompanied by police observation crews. The study concluded that the Police Service should acquire its own helicopter for use in crime prevention and traffic work. The recommendation was accepted and it was planned to purchase the first helicopter in 1979. (1) Also in 1978 helicopter parols were made in co-operation with the Commissioner for Main Roads to oversight traffic flows during periods of high traffic activity, such as holiday weekends and public transport interruptions. (2)
By 1985 the major emphasis of the Branch appeared to have changed as the Air Wing was one of four specialist units of the Disaster and Rescue Branch. The role of the sub-branch was described as ‘Provision of an air-based back-up facility for operational policing’. (3)
By 1992/93 the branch consisted of 30 staff and 3 bell jet ranger helicopters. The branch was noted as having assisted the Drug Enforcement Agency by gathering information and performing surveillance operations. It was involved in operations where $138M cannabis was seized and $20m worth of hard drugs was detected resulting in 60 arrests. This was in addition to its role in various aerial patrols, search and rescue operations and reporting on fire, floods and traffic. (4)
During 1994/95 the Air Wing was notable for assisting with traffic regulation at times of heavy traffic such as long weekends, when fixed-wing aircraft were used to identify cases of driver fatigue (characterised by erratic driving) that is easily detected from the air. Information was conveyed to police patrol vehicles that were able to contact the vehicle concerned. (5)
The branch originally operated from Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport (Mascot) but was relocated to Bankstown Airport by early 1992. (6)
(1) NSW Police Department, Annual Report for 1978, p.39 In NSW Parliamentary Papers, 1979-80 Vol.6, p.715.
(2) Ibid., p.32.
(3) NSW Government Directory. 4th edition 1985 p.405.
(4) NSW Police Service, Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1993, p.33.
(5) NSW Police Service, Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1995, p.53.
(6) NSW Government Directory, January 1992, p.267.