By Doug Muldoon
The Palm Bay Police Department’s S.O.A.R. Unit provides aerial support for the agency using two unconventional aircraft known as a powered parachute (PPC) and powered paraglider (PPG). These aircraft provide aviation alternatives for agencies that can utilize air support but cannot afford the costs associated with traditional aircraft. The benefits to these aircraft are low acquisition costs, low operating costs, they are very portable requiring no hangar to store the units, they are easy to learn to operate, and safe to fl y. With a geographical service area of over 100 square miles, these two aircraft provide the police department with aerial capabilities far below the operating costs associated with traditional aircraft. The “low and slow” method of operation with these air units provide the pilot/offi cer with an unobscured aerial view of the City and of isolated areas not easily accessible by other means.
The PPG equipment was provided at no cost to the police department through partnerships with engine manufacturer Parajet and wing manufacturer Paramania. The PPC was provided to the police department at no cost after agreeing to participate in a program with the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) in which several unconventional light sport aircraft are being tested and evaluated for law enforcement purposes. Additionally, the NIJ provided a trailer to store and transport the aircraft, helmets, a communications system, and trained four offi cers who obtained a sport-pilot rating with a PPC endorsement.
The aircraft have been used to search for persons and property, obtain aerial photos and video of critical infrastructure and crime scenes, and surveillance. The SOAR program does not require offi cers to fl y on a full-time basis. All SOAR Unit members have full-time positions within the police department and only fl y when deemed necessary or requested. The pilot-in-command always has the fi nal decision on whether the aircraft and conditions are safe to fl y. The pilots who fl y are Capt. Mark Renkens, Sgt. Dave Weber, Cpl. Phil Erwin, and Cpl. Ed Bermudez.