I’ve talked before about how valuable paramotors can be in Search and Rescue operations. The only way to bring that value to a scene is good training beforehand. To that end I’ve been working on different methods and tools to better myself in this area.
A few days ago while watching a Paramotor Nation interview with the founder of ASAR national (Airborne Search and Rescue) I hit on an idea. One of the surprising things for me becoming a pilot was how different everything looks from the air. You can see everything but you have to train your eye to understand the world from this new vantage point. In comes “Find me Freddo”
I built this guy as an inexpensive, easy to transport visual training aid. It’s just a few pieces of 1″ Poplar dowel rod and paracord at the joints.
I dressed up the joints with electrical tape just to avoid having to retie them later. Then grabbed some old clothes to dress him up.
It’s not fancy but it’s roughly people sized and should be useful helping to calibrate our eyes to spotting people in different terrain and clothing . He is also fits in a gym bag for easy storage and transport to a search area.
Total cost: Less than $30 and an hour of my time. It can be fitted with a life jacket for water searches and if you fold the arm and leg joints it becomes child sized. It should be a very versatile tool.
If your around West TN and would like to be a part of the team we’re building let me know. You don’t have to be a pilot. We are also looking for a good ground team to coordinate with local authorities and organize training events/direct search operations. Send me an email if you’re interested with “SAR” in the subject line. Kurt.Dugger@yahoo.com.
To better understand searching with a paramotor I decided to do a training run on a nearby field. Here is the data I collected.
Search Area: Approx. 900 Acres Corn and Soybeans. Obion River along West edge.
Obstructions: Power lines running East/West 1/4 mile inside North edge of field.
Weather: Clear with winds 5-15 from the South
Time: Takeoff Approx. 18:30 Landing 19:30 local time
Search pattern: Spiral from outside to inside
Search results: Incomplete, area not cleared
I approached the area to be searched from the North West corner. First scanning for obstructions. Power lines found inside North edge of area.
I decided to start at the perimeter and spiral inward as there are ditches/creeks/river surrounding the field.
Wind was a large factor. I started the first pass at a higher altitude (100′) to get a feel for the mechanical rotor in the area. Moving North to South I averaged 15MPH. South to North I averaged 30-35 MPH.
I was able to conduct most of my search just below treetop height. I did find several deer to use as visual references. They were easy to pick out from above, even when they laid down in the beans. Finding recent deer trails through the beans was not easy but it was possible.
From 50′ I was able to see through the corn to the ground in most, not all, areas. I could do this in an area approx. 15-20 corn rows wide at that altitude.
I could see into culverts and under small bridges around the field but not well enough to call them cleared.
Searching the Ditch to the North, River to the West and creek to the South was done easily. Tree cover is limited in those areas.
There is a creek on the Eastern edge of the field I could not see into due to heavy tree cover.
The railroad tracks indicated on the topo map are actually a gravel road that offers access through the field.
I needed one more pass to cover the area, I chose to abort the search due to degrading weather conditions (Gusts becoming heavier and from less predictable directions).
As a searcher I need practice keeping my paths separated. I wasted time recovering the same ground in a few spots. I also experimented with spotting small objects and then turning back for a closer look. I found it very difficult to pick back up on an object (soda can size) after losing sight of it.
I also think a down and back pattern moving from West to East might have been a better approach to this area. If the subject was trying to avoid the searcher they would be likely stopped at the river on the Eastern edge which could then be easily covered.
I love flying for recreation, but I’m always looking for ways to make more practical use of this machine. Early on I thought it might be perfect for SAR operations. Turns out it is.
I recently found some guys in New Mexico and Arizona using PPGs for this with enormous success. They have given me a boatload of information as to how to get started here. After contacting our local Rescue Squad and Sheriff I’m even more convinced of its viability.
A paramotor has a few unique abilities that make it an excellent tool for this work.
Portability– Most pilots have their rig set up to be portable already. This lets us make use of new flying areas easily. It also means we are always ready to travel directly to a search area and launch nearby.
Short Takeoff and Landing- It’s hard to beat a footlaunch paramotor for working out of a small area. Even trikes and quads can operate safely out of places you can’t park an airplane.
Cost- Helicopters are great tools for SAR. However they are expensive to operate. And availability can be a problem. Paramotors fly for about 5 bucks an hour. And pilots are always looking for an excuse to fly.
View- You can’t match the view from a paramotor. Flying at low speed and altitudes as low as a few feet allows you to get close to your subject and maintain a visual long enough to figure out what you are looking at. One example of this from the New Mexico team was being called to find a handgun that had been dropped along a several mile stretch of highway. They found it in short order where it would have taken walkers many hours or days.
Safety- Paramotors might be the safest form of aviation available. Losing an engine is not much more than an inconvenience in most situations. While obstacles such as power lines, trees, and towers are a problem, our slow speed and tight turning radius gives us an ability to avoid surprises that other aircraft don’t have.
Everyone I’ve contacted thus far has been 100% behind the idea of starting this in West TN. I’m sure there will be a lot of trial and error learning as far as coordination and communication, but we will work it out.
If you know of anyone interested in getting involved please get in touch. Kurt.Dugger@yahoo.com.