In a State which is so large and sparsely populated it was only logical that SAPOL should use aircraft as a means of transport.
In 1945 Constable Giles on his return to police duty at the end of the Second World War, where he had been a RAAF Flying Officer piloting Lancaster bombers on missions over Europe, raised the matter of police aviation with the Commissioner of Police, William Johns. He was told, “Don’t worry about flying son, we will never have an aeroplane. Wouldn’t you like to go in the mounted; we’ve got plenty of horses.” Who would have thought then that by 1976 the Commissioner of Police, Harold Salisbury, would be reporting in the Police Annual Report…
“The use of aircraft has been accepted as the most efficient and economical method of transport of people over long distances within the Police Department.”
SAPOL’s first use of aircraft was in 1962 when Motor Traffic Constable Perry who was a qualified pilot, undertook a number of flights in support of police operations and conveying various police personnel on detachment at Lake Eyre during Donald Campbell’s land speed record attempts. In 1968 Senior Constable Gamble who was also a qualified pilot, was called upon to fly in support of various police operations. It was during this time that the advantages of using aircraft for police use were recognised and between 1968 and 1971 a number of ad hoc flights were undertaken, with SAPOL hiring an aeroplane as needed. It was also during this time that the Department made use of a RAAF DC3 aircraft stationed at Edinburgh for the occasional movement of large numbers of police personnel for special operations and events, including the transportation of the Police Armed Offenders Squad on urgent long distance responses.
In 1972 the Police Aviation Section was formally established with four police pilots along with the permanent leasing of a single-engine Piper Cherokee Six. In 1975, two additional police pilots were appointed, and a Turbo-charged twin-engine Piper Seneca II aircraft replaced the single-engine Piper Cherokee. In the following year, 1976, with SAPOL pilots having reached commercial licence standards, a second Piper Seneca II aircraft was acquired.
By the late 1970’s there were demands for larger and faster aircraft and in 1982, SAPOL introduced newer aircraft which increased its operational flexibility and the ability to operate at higher altitudes. It was at this time that the police aviation unit was renamed the ‘Police Air Wing’, with police aircraft by now making a total of 630 flights annually covering an aggregate of 380,700 nautical miles, carrying in excess of three thousand passengers, including both police and prisoners and conducting numerous search and rescue operations at sea and in remote inland areas.
In the years that followed SAPOL continued to operate a number of aircraft including two twin engine Cessna 402C’s. These remained in service until 2007 when one was replaced in June of that year by a new $4.14 million state-of-the art Pilatus PC-12/47 turbo prop aircraft. In 2019 the Police Airwing continues to not only provide an important service within SAPOL but is available to deliver crucial support to police operations as well as during emergencies and disasters and in Keeping SA safe.