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Feature Story

An Anaheim Police Department helicopter flies with an Nightsun XP searchlight attached to the aircraft behind the landing gear

Anaheim Police Department/Officer Ty Hagenson

An Anaheim Police Department helicopter flies with an Nightsun XP searchlight attached to the aircraft behind the landing gear.

Boeing Spectrolab's new searchlight aims to make operator's job easier

Greg Campbell, vice president of Illuminations and Sensor Products for Spectrolab

Boeing

Greg Campbell, vice president of Illuminations and Sensor Products for Spectrolab, displays Spectrolab's newest searchlight, Nightsun XP.

When a police helicopter shines a searchlight on the ground to look for, track and help apprehend a crime suspect, chances are it is using a product made by Boeing subsidiary Spectrolab.

For more than 40 years, Boeing Spectrolab, based in Sylmar, Calif., has been building thousands of searchlights for police, fire, military, medical and news crews for mounting on helicopters, boats and fixed sites. And it has become the global industry leader in airborne searchlight systems, with a market share of almost 100 percent.

“We provide product to the helicopter community all around the world which provides our customers with the ability to more effectively use their airborne helicopter systems at night,” said Greg Campbell, vice president of Illuminations and Sensor Products for Spectrolab. “By doing this, we help save lives and provide security.”

Spectrolab searchlight mounted on helicopter

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department/
Chris Miller

More than 4,000 Spectrolab searchlights, mounted on helicopters, boats and fixed sites, are used by law enforcement, fire and rescue, and news organizations worldwide.

Customers have now begun deploying Spectrolab’s newest searchlight, Nightsun XP.

Sgt. Bryan Santy, an aircrew supervisor for the Anaheim, Calif., police department, praised Nightsun XP, saying its light is brighter, more stable and easier to move than that of an earlier system the department owns. Anaheim acquired Nightsun XP for one of its helicopters in April 2010.

“It has made it easier to track suspects,” Santy said. “There is not as much shake in the light and we can link it to the FLIR [forward looking infrared camera] and do things like read license plates at night.”

Campbell said a key innovation is that Nightsun XP allows the searchlight and a video camera to be operated with a single controller device. Earlier systems required the use of two controllers – one for the searchlight, the other for the camera – which meant the operator had to steer both pieces of equipment to keep pointing both of them at a single target.

“Time management is a valuable resource, and the ability to operate two pieces of equipment with a single controller provides the helicopter crew with a workload reduction,” said Campbell, a 28-year Boeing employee who holds a mechanical engineering degree from the University of California-Berkeley. “This is important because in today’s modern helicopter cockpits, the demands on the operator have continued to increase.”

Another new capability is Nightsun XP’s ability to self-diagnose a problem and alert the operator.

“Self-diagnostic testing makes Nightsun XP more dependable,” Campbell said. “Minor operator-correctable issues can be identified and addressed before they become major issues and require extensive repair.”