The NYPD has granted CBS 2 a first look at its expensive new helicopter – designed to do a lot more than simply fight terrorism.
CBS News senior correspondent John Miller was given a chance to go up for a ride recently.
The helicopter, a Bell 412EP, was funded with federal port security money and can carry up to 10 people, including a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief, NYPD SCUBA divers or Emergency Services Unit officers. It weighs 7,000 pounds, can travel 150 mph and costs $9.8 million, plus it carries another $4 million worth of sensitive equipment.
Part of its job is to confront the threat that terrorists might try to smuggle a nuclear device into New York City through its busy ports.
The chopper, which uses the call sign “Aviation 22,” is equipped with new radiation detection equipment that is so sensitive it can fly over a container, cargo or tanker ship and accurately detect a radiation signature from an altitude of 200 feet.
Miller: “What are the capabilities from the sky that you focused on, that would actually allow you to detect something farther out?”
NYPD Lt. Art Mogil: “The nice thing about the aerial capability is, one, you’re more mobile. You can hit more different areas and hit it faster. So we’ve done some research and we’ve looked at best of class and I think we’ve come up with a very robust system that has a very large sensor array.”
It is the very latest tool in New York City’s counter-terrorism arsenal and another sign of how critical helicopters have become in the counter-terrorism operations of the nation’s largest police department.
“We’re looking at the critical infrastructure of New York City, the symbolic buildings. Is there anything out of place, anything suspicious? Anything that we didn’t see the day before that now has changed and will require investigation?” said Capt. James Coan of the NYPD’s Aviation Division.
A normal police helicopter patrol might focus on commercial areas, looking for burglars on a rooftop, or over the water for a rescue, but the counter-terrorism patrol executed several times a day by the NYPD takes them off the beaten path.
Miller: “Is there something in particular you’re looking for that would set something off?”
NYPD Det. Bill La Paugh: “Small boats that shouldn’t be there, maybe with unusual activity. Numerous people messing around or something they shouldn’t be doing, looks unusual. We’ve got a few pipelines we also check.”
Every day they also patrol the Buckeye pipeline. Like with much critical infrastructure, most New Yorkers don’t even know it exists, but 10 million gallons of fuel travel through the pipeline to airport fuel distributors each day.
In 2007, the pipeline was the target of a terrorist plot. Three men were convicted in that case.