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By Caterina Hessler - The state of Thuringia, the “green heart” of the Federal Republic of Germany is famous for its vast forests and the low mountain range of the “Rennsteig.” The capital Erfurt is the home of the state´s police helicopter squadron. The pilots there fight for law and order and sometimes for people´s lives, German Polizei Helicoptertoo.


On a Friday morning at about six o’clock, German police captain and helicopter pilot Stefan Haupt enters the hangar of “Polizeihubschrauberstaffel Thüringen” (police helicopter squadron of Thuringia, Germany) after starting his working day with a rich and good meal at the local butcher. The grass around the runway of Erfurt Airport, where the squadron is located, is still covered with dew. On the apron stands a Eurocopter EC145 helicopter with the call sign “Habicht 1” (Hawk 1).

Haupt´s colleagues have just pulled the helicopter to the apron and have started with the pre flight check. Checking the helicopter and the equipment is part of the every day routine in order to keep up the high flying and safety standards. The EC145 or BK117 has been in service for the Thuringia police for almost two years now. The former type flown in the service was the well-known BO-105. Of the squadrons two BO-105, one was sold to the aerobatic team “Flying Bulls” in Salzburg, Austria. The remaining helicopter is still in service and has the call sign “Habicht 2.”

After the hand-off from the previous crew in the morning, the crew on duty around Stefan Haupt checks the tasks scheduled for the day, plans the missions and services the aircraft in order to maintain its operational readiness. The next step is the pre-flight check as it is currently performed by Haupt. After taking a thorough look at the engine he proudly elaborates on the helicopter’s equipment. “Our ‘Habicht’ has a searchlight, an infrared camera with video option, a cargo hook and a winch and fast roping devices. Furthermore it is fully equipped for IFR and NVG flights. There is an emergency doctor´s backpack on board and the possibility to install a stretcher underline the ECs medevac capabilities. The EC also offers the possibility to work as a relay station for transmissions. We are often alerted for search flights during nighttime. Senior citizens or hikers unfamiliar with the terrain often get lost in the forests and we are able to find them within a very short time. We also support the ground forces in their search for offenders. About 60 percent of our missions are search flights. The remaining 40 percent consist of control flights and air support for the police officers on ground. Sometimes we fly special missions, too. Fire fighting or rescue missions are among those,” Haupt explains.

If special equipment is required for a scheduled mission it can be installed quickly. The Eurocopter has basically the same interior as the BO-105. In addition it also features a hoist. This hoist makes the EC145 uGerman Polizei Helicopternique in Thuringia. No other helicopter in the state is able to rescue persons by winch. “Although we have no high mountain area,” explains the pilot, “some of our hills have steep cliffs. If a hiker or other person falls off such a cliff, we are the only unit who can rescue him,” Haupt said.

In May, a group of four young men partied in a forest near the city of Wutha. After consuming copious amounts of beer, the highly intoxicated party of four took a walk near a cliff. One of them lost his footing, slipped and fell. Although the impact was somewhat cushioned by brush, the man was badly injured after the 30 meter drop. The man´s friends called for help and tried to get down to him. Two helicopters were alerted to rescue him. One helicopter was from “DRF Luftrettung” (HEMS) the other aircraft was Stefan Haupt’s EC145. “It was a difficult rescue mission. We had to fly really close to the rocks and the wind blew fairly strong. There was some severe turbulence. I had to fly four turns to get the doctor down to the patient, rescue the patient and get the doctor back onboard the rescue helicopter,” recalls Haupt. Due to the crews’ high professionalism and training standard, the man’s life could be saved.

After completing the check of the helicopter, Stefan Haupt returns to his office for a briefing with the two other members of his crew. The team normally consists of a pilot, a winch and FLIR (Forward Looking Infrared Radar) operator and a flight engineer. Suddenly the telephone rings. A bad car accident happened on the motorway A9. The helicopter is required for taking aerial photographs of the scene in order to clarify the course of accident. The three police officers grab their helmets and climb into the EC145. Only minutes later the helicopter is cleared for take off and is airborne, heading towards the site of the accident. The crew passes by the “Drei Gleichen,” three of the many castles in Thuringia, following the A9 in a low level flight. The helicopter has an auto pilot which helps to reduce the pilot´s workload tremendously.

After a short flight, the crew arrives at the scene where the accident happened. Two trucks have jack-knifed and are badly keyed in a construction site. The motorway is floated with fuel and oil and is fully blocked for cars. The helicopter circles around the area while the FLIR operator takes the pictures. He can either take stills or film video sequences and send them to the police crews on the ground. Fire brigade, emergency doctor and police cars are on scene too. “Sometimes we discover an accident during our routine control flights. Quite often the car is on fire and we are the first to help. In such a case we try to land near the accident site and pull out the unconscious passengers from their cars. Over the years I have had the privilege to save some lives,” Stefan Haupt explains. “It’s good that our flight suits are fire-resistant,” he adds with a chuckle.

After returning to the home base, a lot of bureaucratic work is waiting for the pilots. “We do most of our paperwork on our own, like regular pilots,” says Haupt. “It makes no difference that we are cops. We have to fill in the flight book, the flight report, the personal reports such as the logbook and, if the mission was German Polizei Helicoptercompleted successfully, a report for the administration office,” he comments. 

Of course there will always be missions that cannot be completed due to bad weather conditions or which are called off because the victims of accidents were so severely injured that they passed away. Besides those sometimes frustrating missions, there are also funny moments in the work of the police pilots. For example, the story of a middle-aged man who went out rowing on the “Bleilochtalsperre” (Germany’s biggest barrier lake). He was so absorbed in his sport that by the time he decided to return to where he had parked his car at the waterside, it was dark and he was lost on the lake. A hiker was alerted by the man´s cries for help, spotted him on the water and informed the police. When the helicopter crew arrived the rower was fully disorientated and was paddling in circles in the middle of the lake. After the FLIR operator discovered the man´s car at the shore the pilot switched on the searchlight and pointed towards the car –guiding the man back to shore.

“Our squadron is one of the few police helicopter units in Germany, which train in cooperation with the “Bergwacht” (mountain rescue). In addition to practicing winch operations we also train cargo flights with sling loads like the Bamby Bucket. This particular training really helps us to prepare for difficult situations. An example is a wind energy plant, which stood on fire after being struck by lightning. The fire brigade wasn’t able to reach the burning rotor blade, because of the height of the structure. We could extinguish the fire with only two approaches, saving the energy plant from being completely destroyed, thus preventing a costly damage,” Stefan Haupt adds.

When asked if likes his job, Haupt smiles. “There is no better work than flying,” he answers. Like most boys he dreamed of being a pilot or a police officer when he was young. By combining both professions he is living his dream. During the time of the German Democratic Republic he fulfilled his conscription in the armed forces or “NVA” (National Volks Armee) in a military police unit. After the mandatory service time, he elected to enlist in the regular police force. Since applicants have to have a completed training in a different profession before signing up for police school, Haupt first trained as a motor mechanic in order to meet the requirements. After passing the basic police training and studying at the university from 1993 until 1996, he was chief of the civil German Polizei Helicoptertask force and worked as regular police officer.

By chance Haupt came across an advertisement stating that the police helicopter squadron was searching for new pilots – he made an application and passed the tests of DLR (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, German Aerospace Center) in the city of Hamburg in northern Germany. After receiving his pilot licence and logging several hundred hours of flight time, he worked as a flight instructor for the German Police as well as for the German Border Police. “Nowadays it is something special for me to have a regular working week here in the squadron. During my education and my work as a flight instructor I always had to travel to Bonn Hangelar where the central German police helicopter school for both, the Federal Police and the state´s police, is located. I was also sent to Donauwörth where Eurocopter Germany has its main office. They have great full flight simulators there where we can train flight- and emergency procedures,” he recalls. Stefan Haupt is one of the pilots with the most ratings for aircrafts in the squadron. He is allowed to fly EC145, BO-105, EC135, EC120 (the training helicopter of the Federal Police) and Robinson R44, which he operates as freelance pilot for a local helicopter company. Furthermore he has a licence for an ultra light aircraft, and he owns a motor glider.

The helicopter unit in Erfurt is one of ten German police helicopter squadrons. About 16 people, seven of them pilots, work there and fly about 1100 missions per year gathering 800 to 900 hours of flight time. The crews work in two (weekend) to three (working day) shifts during 24 hours, 365 days per year.

It is evening and time for Stefan Haupt to leave his work and to return home. As he walks through the hangar he stops for a moment at the EC145. “It’s a good working horse and I really like flying her,” he comments as he pats the helicopter. Then he passes through the airport door and moves to his vehicle, a motorbike, and his second favourite means of transport – next to flying helicopters.



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