How did you start flying helicopters? I investigated joining all three military services after I completed my A levels because I knew I wanted to fly helicopters. I got a scholarship with the Royal Navy and joined in 1990.

We first flew the Bulldog, a light fixed-wing aircraft. From there we all went to the Royal Naval Elementary Flying Training School and did basic rotary training in the Gazelle. After that we flew Sea Kings in an anti-submarine role.

I went on to instruct students in operational flying training, including detection and prosecution of submarines, operating from ships, surface searches and secondary roles such as winching and load lifting. I also flew search and rescue in Cornwall.

At the end of 1999 I left the navy and started flying for a company contracted by the Met to provide their pilots. Subsequently the Met employed me directly.

What does your job involve? We work in 12h shifts and provide 24h police air support for the capital. Within those shifts there can be pre-planned tasks such as photographic work and reactive work.

A lot of time is spent looking for missing people. We have a thermal imaging camera and a daylight camera which enables us to search vast areas very quickly.

We also do rooftop searches, suspect searches, vehicle pursuits, tracking stolen vehicles, and public order roles such as monitoring large crowds from the air. The police controllers can see our pictures live and react accordingly.

How hard is it to get into your line of work? The navy was almost an apprenticeship for me because of the flying hours required to get into this job. You need 2,000h total time on helicopters, 1,500h spent as pilot in command and 500h flying twin engine helicopters.

There are also other requirements. Most of the pilots here are ex-military: there are two with civilian backgrounds, but they have had varied careers and done interesting things.

What are the rewards and challenges of your job? You're operating in some very congested airspace, over very dense urban environments and the weather limits allow us to fly in challenging conditions. The rewards are things like finding suspects, apprehending villains or finding a missing person. Everyone feels like they've done something good for the day.

Source: Flight International