By Ryan Hill

MODESTO (CBS13) – There is a new tool in the Modesto Police Department’s belt, a gyroplane, which is part of a six-month pilot program for the department as it looks to establish its air fleet.

“It operates somewhat like a plane and somewhat like a helicopter,” Officer John Moss said.

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Moss, who pilots the plane, first thought that the aircraft was from another century.

“It brought me back to my childhood days watching The Jetsons. It’s very futuristic looking,” Moss said.

Modesto police said the plane has been on about 20 missions in the two weeks it’s been in the central valley.

Its latest call was Wednesday night as police looked for a suspect who ran from a traffic stop.

Owl 5, the plane’s call sign, has a price point that’s giving the department something to hoot and holler about too.

“All of the numbers we are getting so far is that both the purchase and operational cost is about 10 percent of what a traditional helicopter would cost,” Captain Ivan Valencia said. “This aircraft is costing about $65 an hour to put in the air, which a traditional helicopter is anywhere from $750 all the way to $1,500 an hour.”

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If Modesto police were to end up buying its own gyroplane at the end of the pilot program, it would cost about $350,000 compared to a helicopter which would be at least $3 million.

It’s a cheap price that’s bringing Modesto police to new heights when compared to other departments in the country.

“There have been others but they’re more simplified. They don’t have the built-in FLIR thermal cameras that this aircraft does,” Valencia said.

Valencia told CBS13 that this is the first gyroplane in the country that has the same public safety equipment as a modern-day helicopter. It’s giving police an edge on something you can’t put a price on – public safety.

“If you can respond to a scene within three minutes, the likelihood of you catching someone greatly increases. After the three-minute mark, it drops down to like 20 percent,” Valencia said.

“We can cover a lot of ground in a lot of time for a fraction of the cost,” Moss said. “We can search for prowlers and hopefully keep the city of Modesto safer.”

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The department also says that the gyroplane burns less fuel and runs quieter than a modern-day helicopter. It results in less air pollution and makes it easier for officers to communicate at a scene.