With a short whine and then a steady low buzz, one of the Arlington, Tx., two remote-controlled police helicopters took off for a short demonstration flight yesterday, perhaps opening a new chapter in urban law enforcement practices, reports the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. The 58-inch-long, 11-pound, battery-powered helicopters can fly at 40 mph and will be equipped with cameras. Police say they will be used for operations ranging from investigating fatal crashes on the two interstate highways that traverse the city to assessing damage from tornadoes and floods to helping search for missing people.
Under permission granted by the Federal Aviation Administration, the helicopters must stay lower than 400 feet from the ground and must be visible to the pilot at all times. “These are not going to be in the trunks of police cars going down the road,” said Sgt. Christopher Cook. The department has strict protocols on how and when an incident commander can request their use. Even then, said tactical unit Sgt. Brook Rollins, a licensed pilot who heads the department’s aviation unit, the final decision on whether to fly will be made by the pilot commander on arrival at the scene. Predictions that multitudes of unmanned aircraft could be flying here within a decade are raising the specter of a “surveillance society” in which no home or back yard would be off-limits to prying eyes overhead. Law enforcement, oil companies, farmers, real estate agents, news-gathering organizations, and many others have seen the technology that was pioneered on battlefields, and they are eager to put it to use. Houston, Miami, and other cities’ police departments have tested unmanned aircraft.