Fla. police launch first paragliding search team


Courtesy of Palm Bay Police Department
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(Photo courtesy of Palm Bay Police Department)
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 Police Aviation, by Kenneth Solosky

PALM BAY, Fla. — In a first of its kind approach to aerial search operations, the Palm Bay Police Department will become what is believed to be the first law enforcement agency in the country to deploy a paragliding team of police officers in a unique operation dubbed SOAR, Search Operations Aerial Response. The Palm Bay Police Department will use the aircraft for search and rescue operations involving missing endangered children and adults, surveillance and reconnaissance, locating stolen and discarded vehicles and other property, identifying hazards within the City, photographing crime scenes, and damage assessment after disasters.

There are also plans to use the ultralight aircraft for crime prevention through routine aerial patrols over sections of the City that experience higher numbers of residential burglaries and other similar crimes.

“We can see a lot from the air and with this setup it’s an easy and inexpensive way to bring aerial search capabilities to everyday law enforcement,” said Lt. Joe Eakins who with Lt. Mark Renkens worked to develop the new program for use by the Department. “By being more visible from the air than on the ground, we hope our aerial presence will be a deterrent.”

A powered paraglider is the most portable and inexpensive motorized aircraft ever invented. This ultralight aircraft requires no airport, hangar or runway. It can be packed so small that most units can fit in the backseat of a standard size patrol vehicle.

“The major advantage of this aircraft for law enforcement is in its ability to fly low and slow,” Lt. Eakins added noting that most conventional aircraft are regulated to fly at altitudes above 1000 feet. “At this high altitude it becomes difficult to properly survey designated areas to be searched.”

PBPD SOAR Facts:

• PBPD first to use powered paragliding in a law enforcement application

• SOAR units can fit in the backseat of a standard patrol car

• SOAR units will fly between 500-1000 feet in altitude

• SOAR can fly at speeds up to 42 miles per hour depending on wind direction

• SOAR motor weights between 45-60 pounds

• Powered paragliders have a maximum legal altitude limit of 18,000 feet

• Fuel Capacity: 2-3 gallons premium fuel

• Maximum flight time: 2-3 hours per launch

• Standard Distance Covered: 70- miles

• SOAR Reflex Wings: Manufactured by Dudek Synthesis

• SOAR wingspan: 27-feet end to end for foot launch; 34 –feet end to end with quad buggy launch

• Motors: Paratoys Mz100, Paratoys Mz34

• Equipment donated by Ray MacMahon Powered Paragliding Equipment, Cocoa Beach, FL 

The Palm Bay Police Department acquired two aerial units from Ray MacMahon Powered Paragliding Equipment based in Cocoa Beach. Dudek Synthesis manufactured the reflex wings that will be used on the SOAR aircraft. Dudek Paragliders are designed and produced in Poland. These reflex gliders are touted as being faster and inherently more stable than traditional classic style gliders.

Dudek has applied a custom logo on the underside of the Synthesis glider specifically for the Palm Bay Police Department. This logo will distinguish the Palm Bay Police Department’s ultralight aircraft from the recreational users.

“Part of our objective is to be visible to the public letting our residents know we are in the air and patrolling the neighborhood,” Lt. Eakins said.

The motors being used are the Paratoys Mz 100, which will be used for foot launch and the Paratoys Mz 34, which will be used on a quad buggy. The Cocoa Beach based company is donating the initial startup equipment for the first 6-8 months of program testing after which the Police Department may use donated funds and funds from forfeited assets seized from criminal suspects to purchase the units at a cost of approximately $25,000.

Four officers are currently training to safely use the system and should be operationally ready within the next several weeks.

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