Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Aviation Unit—ready, willing and able

PBSO uses 3 Bell 407s and a Cessna 206 Stationair to patrol and protect Florida's Gold Coast.


All 3 Bell 407s are equipped with the Aero Dynamix NVG system—a big advantage during peak law enforcement activity. (Inset) Deputy/ Pilot Carl Kamstra and David Fell work the 407 on night-time patrol.

A modern fleet

PBSO's 3 Bells are identical, with the exception of the newest 407, which has additional hardware on board to support law enforcement operations. Lucas describes the Bell 407 as an "incredible aircraft" that satisfies the PBSO mission well, adding that its reliability and parts availability have proved its value to the Sheriff's Office.

Fleet commonality in terms of aircraft, avionics and law enforcement equipment has guided PBSO since acquiring its first 407 about 10 years ago. The newest helicopter, N407PB—a 2006 model—joined the fleet with the addition of Cobham's Chelton Avionics EFIS, and the Becker SAR-DF 517 electronic tracking system improves the ability of law enforcement and SAR agencies to track any person or vehicle equipped with a transponder or ELT.

Aside from these 2 differences, the unit's other 407s are identically equipped. Primary avionics include the Garmin 530 GPS/nav/com unit, the Garmin SL­40 as a second VHF, a panel-mounted Garmin GPSMAP 496, a Northern Airborne Technology NAT PTA12-100 satellite telephone and Motorola 800-MHz radios, all routed through the NAT audio panel.

Law enforcement electronics includes the Avalex Technologies moving map system, L3 Communications Wescam video system, dual Avalex monitors in the front and rear of the aircraft, and a Spectrolab SX16 Nightsun. All 3 heli­cop­ters also have the Aero Dynamix NVG system installed.

PBSO's Cessna 206 Stationair was acquired to assist the agency in surveillance. It too is equipped with the latest in avionics and high-tech law enforcement gear. The Garmin G1000 is the centerpiece of the avionics and communications suite and is well liked by Lucas and his pilots. Lucas sees an advantage to one day equipping new helicopters similarly with the G1000.

Key to the Cessna's law enforcement capability is the Axsys Technologies infrared color camera, which allows the operator at his dedicated station in the rear of the aircraft to observe and record suspects with criminal intent.

Tied to the camera system is a remote monitor for the pilot so that he remains situationally aware and can position the airplane for the deputy monitoring the subject's activity on the video system.

Also on board the Cessna is the Aero­Computers mapping system and Technisonic Industries police radios. Satellite communications capability, similar to the helicopters, is slated for installation shortly.

Clear vision

A team of 4 technicians led by Dir of Maintenance Mike Beedy completes most of PBSO's maintenance inhouse. (L–R) Beedy with Maintenance Technicians Glen Maxwell, Kenny Beck and Daniel Kane.

Allen's vision for the Air Unit under his command is translated into a 1, 3 and 5-year plan that will keep PBSO Aviation ahead of the curve in terms of budget and resources for maintenance, equipment and aircraft replacement.

Key to this philosophy, according to Allen, is a commitment from him and the sheriff to keep the Aviation Unit "on the leading edge of technology." Lucas adds that he is concerned with selecting the right equipment on board the aircraft to make the job easier for the aircrews and for the deputies on the ground.

Lucas sees the Aviation Unit expanding its service to more of the community as greater sections of the county transfer from small, local police departments to the Sheriff's Office. Among goals for the future are more support of PBSO SWAT, canine, marine and patrol divisions and enhanced long-range surveillance, search and rescue capabilities and perhaps prisoner transports.

One important element to increasing support for other PBSO sections is educating the department on unit capabilities and services. Efficiency in scheduling and deployment of resources is a key factor in taking on additional responsibilities and a major driver in Allen's planning.

Support from the top

Sheriff Bradshaw notes, "My first goal was to get the unit well equipped, and it is. The aircraft are vital to county law enforcement and our domestic security network." Meanwhile, Allen puts the unit's mission of support clearly when he says, "We are ready, willing and able."

Brent Holman has held numerous flight training and operations management positions at a major air carrier in the US for the past 27 years, in addition to flying the line. He has also been involved in law enforcement aviation as a reserve officer/helicopter pilot for over 2 decades.


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