With official support for helicopters added in Sim Update 11, a new world of vertical flight has opened up and developers are working hard to produce new and exciting add-ons. Orbx’s Helipads LA Police for Microsoft Flight Simulator seeks to bring simmers into the fast-paced world of airborne law enforcement by featuring 16 bespoke helipads used by the agencies of the Los Angeles Basin in California, USA. Let’s take an in-depth look at the scenery and the types of flights you can recreate in the simulator with this latest Orbx package.
Airborne Law Enforcement: The Force Multiplier
The majority of the helipads featured in Orbx’s Helipads LA Police are locations used by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Both agencies are tasked with protecting the nearly 10 million residents of Los Angeles County and operate sizeable airborne units comprised of specialised fixed and rotor-wing aircraft.
By way of background, the LAPD Air Support Division (ASD) operates a fleet of seven Eurocopter AS350 B2 AStars and seven newer Airbus H125s helicopters. The ASD also has one Bell 206 JetRanger, primarily used for training, and a Bell 412EP for SWAT operations. The fourteen patrol helicopters are equipped with a spotlight, thermal imaging camera, and top-down moving map system. Newer aircraft have augmented reality mapping as well as the ability to downlink video to fixed and mobile receive sites.
Typically, the ASD has at least one aircraft airborne for 20 out of 24 hours each day flying missions that can range from 1-3 hours in duration. Most missions are flown by a pilot and a tactical flight officer (TFO) and consist of roughly 80% Air Support To Regular Operations (ASTRO) and 20% Special Flight Section (SFS) flights. ASTRO flights involve the pilot and TFO assisting officers on the ground in searches, pursuits, and apprehension as well as setting perimeters and providing a force multiplier effect for officers on the ground. SFS flights provide support for detective and undercover operations and narcotics surveillance. Flying at 500 feet (150 meters) and 150 mph (241 km/h) above LA’s gridlocked traffic, the ASD can respond to anywhere in the City, from San Pedro in the south to Chatsworth in the San Fernando Valley, in a matter of minutes.
Whereas the LAPD ASD conducts operations within the confines of the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) Aero Bureau’s jurisdiction includes the remaining 3,171 square mi (8,210 square km) of unincorporated LA County as well as 42 contracted communities within the County. The Aero Bureau’s fleet of eighteen helicopters (Eurocopter AS350 AStars and H225 Super Pumas) supports over 5 million residents from Pacific coastal communities to the Mojave desert and the highest elevations of the Angeles National Forest.
Get Ready For Your Mission
As one could expect given the product’s title, the 16 included helipads are concentrated mainly in the area of Downtown LA. However, Orbx has customised helipads as far east as City of Industry in the San Gabriel Valley and as far west as glitzy Beverly Hills. To the north, the city of Pasadena receives the Orbx treatment as well as Norwalk, California 17 miles (27 km) southeast of downtown Los Angeles. All in all, the scenery does provide a good number of appropriately-distanced helipads from which to fly your law enforcement missions.
Prominently featured in the package is the Jay Stephen Hooper Heliport (58CA), the iconic home of the LAPD Air Support Division. It’s worth noting that sim pilots now have the choice between two versions of the Hooper Heliport; the Orbx version included in Helipads LA Police or the iniBuilds version. Both products feature an accurate, landable heliport deck, night lighting, an animated windsock, and detail of the surrounding parking structure. Orbx adds static aircraft and generally better performance while the iniBuilds version features higher-quality textures and greater detail at the cost of slightly lower framerates. Through Orbx Central, users can choose which version of the Hooper Heliport they wish to use.
Venturing outside Downtown LA, several of the Sheriff’s helipads are included with varying degrees of customisation. For example, while nearly the entire Eugene Biscailuz Regional Training Center is rendered in faithful detail, the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood features just the helipad/parking structure and neglects the surrounding buildings. Other helipads range from simple, marked landing zones to complete, custom 3D models, as is the case with the Pacific Design Center Green Building Heliport in West Hollywood.
On the more detailed side of the scenery, the four-acre Pasadena Police Air Ops facility is a welcome addition to the package. Utilising a fleet of three Bell OH-58s, one Bell 206B JetRanger, and one MD-500E, Pasadena Police operate one of the oldest airborne law enforcement units in the US. Through the Foothill Air Support Team, or “FAST”, Pasadena Air Ops has a partnership with ten neighboring cities in the San Gabriel Valley giving pilots many more areas to explore and virtual missions to fly.
Orbx’s Helipads LA Police seeks to fill a void for virtual pilots wishing to experience the excitement of flying rotor-wing, airborne law enforcement missions – and the Los Angeles Basin provides the perfect location. The development team has done a good job recreating the locations they’ve chosen; Helipad markings are accurate and readable and the surrounding buildings and static police vehicles add a good amount of realism. While not every helipad shares the same level of detail, there is enough variety to keep the entertainment value of this scenery package high. I would love to have seen animated people and vehicles included with this scenery package recreating the types of missions flown by airborne law enforcement; searching for missing persons, vehicle pursuits, and other police activities. Perhaps this is something that will be added by a third-party mission developer in the future.
Where Helipads LA Police really shines is in giving virtual pilots a new, unique challenge operating from previously unreachable locations. Each helipad varies in size, orientation, and surroundings. Mix in dynamic weather, especially gusting winds and the influence of terrain, plus any of the several new helicopters available in the sim, and users have the recipe for some fun (or dicey) takeoffs and landings to LA’s most unique locations.
- LA County Sheriff Men’s Central Jail
- Pasadena Police Heliport
- LA County Sheriff South
- City of Industry Civic Financial Center Heliport + LA County Sheriff
- LAPD Wilshire Helipad
- LAPD Headquarters
- LAPD Central Community Police Station
- Jay Stephen Hooper Memorial Heliport (Control Panel option to avoid conflict with iniScene version)
- Norwalk Sheriff Station Heliport
- LASD Biscailuz Regional Training Center
- Century Regional Detention Facility
- Pacific Design Center Green Building Heliport
- Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station
- Twin Towers Correctional Facility Heliport
- Glendale Police Department
- LA County Sheriff West Hollywood Station
In addition to the 16 helipads, Orbx also included 8 police and news liveries for the default Bell 407 in the package. It is a welcome surprise that ensures virtual pilots won’t have a shortage of good-looking helicopters with which to buzz around LA.