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Powered Parachute Gives US Rural Police Departments Eye in the Sky

  • Steve Mort

The Palm Bay Police Department is experimenting with powered parachute aircraft to assist in crime fighting

The Palm Bay Police Department is experimenting with powered parachute aircraft to assist in crime fighting

As an alternative to expensive helicopters or traditional jets, some law enforcement agencies are experimenting with lightweight craft that stay airborne using just a parachute.

Crime fighting is taking to the skies in the rural Florida city of Palm Bay. Lieutenant Joe Eakins says this tiny aircraft, which uses a parachute instead of wings, offers an affordable way to patrol from the air.

"The helicopter is obviously the ideal platform for police work. However, most agencies can't afford those. You have to have a hangar, it costs quite a bit for maintenance and fuel," said Lieutenant Joe Eakins of the Palm Bay Police Department.

This powered parachute costs just $35 an hour to fly, compared to hundreds of dollars for a helicopter. And Officer Edward Bermudez says the 180 kilo craft is much simpler to operate. The Palm Bay Police Department is one of only seven agencies to receive a $30,000 grant from the U.S. government to experiment with aviation.

The Justice Department says powered parachutes offer a solution for rural forces that patrol large areas with limited resources. Lieutenant Eakins says it could be useful in preventing crimes such as burglaries in Palm Bay's dispersed residential communities.

"We're so much more visible from the air than we are from the ground that maybe we can be a deterrent," added Lieutenant Eakins.

The powered parachute can fly very low to the ground, and as slowly as 40 kilometers per hour, giving officers a clear view during search and surveillance operations.

Officer Bermudez says it can help in hunting for illegal drug operations or for missing people.

"We're also looking into using it for photography purposes, or at least for observation purposes, for crime scenes," he noted.

Police officers say the powered parachute does have limitations. For example, it can only be flown in good weather. But officials in Palm Bay say they hope the aircraft will be flying regular patrols within months.

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