Brevard County, Florida is located in east central Florida. The county is 1,557 square miles—22 miles wide and 72 miles long. The land area is 1,018 square miles, and the water within Brevard is 539 square miles. The entire eastern boundary of the county borders the Atlantic Ocean, making up 72 miles of beaches. Brevard County has 16 municipalities with a total population of 555,650. Brevard County is known as the “Space Coast,” since it’s the home of the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Brevard County is home to Port Canaveral, one of the busiest freight and cruise ship port terminals in the country, as well as a Navy Trident turning basin for ballistic missile submarines. Patrick Air Force Base and the Naval Ordnance Test Unit are also located within the county.
Prior to 1996, the Brevard County Sheriff ’s Office operated a part-time aviation unit, utilizing a Hughes 269 helicopter, and then a Robinson R22 helicopter. The Sheriff ’s Office also operated several fixed-wing aircraft prior to 1996, one of which was a Baron that was seized during a narcotics investigation. During this time, the unit was strictly an “on-call” unit. When the helicopter or fixed-wing was needed, a pilot would be called to respond from his other duties. The aircraft were stored at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, which is at the north end of the county.
In 1996, the Sheriff ’s Office received four flyable OH-58A+ helicopters, under the 1208 program. Three of the aircraft were outfitted as patrol aircraft, and the fourth was utilized as the training aircraft. The Baron was sold during this time so that the first forward looking infrared (FLIR 6000) system could be purchased.
In 1997, the aviation unit was in place on a full-time basis and moved to the Merritt Island Airport, which is located in the center of the county. The aviation unit worked with three full-time pilots, a mechanic/pilot, and five FLIR operators dually assigned, working other duties within the Sheriff’s Office, as well as within the aviation unit.
Since becoming a full-time operation, the aviation unit, known as “STAR” (Sheriff’s Tactical Air Response), responds to a multitude of call types, such as crimes in progress, search-and-rescue missions, and counter-drug surveillance. STAR also plays an instrumental part supporting other emergencies, such as brush fires and hurricane damage reconnaissance flights. In 2000, the aviation unit started utilizing two sets of ANVIS-9 night vision goggles. The aviation unit also began utilizing officers from cities within Brevard County. One Officer each from Cocoa, Melbourne, and Palm Bay began working one shift a week within the unit. In 2001, the aviation unit received its second forward looking infrared (FLIR 7500) system. After receiving this system, the aviation unit placed second in the FLIR Vision Award at the Airborne Law Enforcement Association (ALEA) annual conference in Austin, Texas.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the duties of the aviation unit grew, requiring increased security at Port Canaveral during the time cruse ships were entering and exiting the port. The STAR Unit also assisted with the temporary flight restrictions during space shuttle launches, as well as several Presidential visits. If there was an aircraft violating the air space, it was the military fighter’s job to gain the attention of the pilots, notifying them of the violation. The aviation unit then escorted the aircraft to airports within the county, standing by until an investigator arrived on scene.
In 2002, the first full-time Tactical Flight Officer/FLIR Operator was assigned to the aviation unit. This has greatly improved the performance of the unit. In July 2003, the unit was awarded first place in the FLIR Vision Award at ALEA’s annual conference in Wichita, Kansas.
The aviation unit participates in the Project Lifesaver (Care Trak) program, which utilizes electronic wristbands, emitting a frequency that can be tracked to help locate those who have Alzheimer’s and Dementia, or subjects who wander from their familiar surroundings and become lost. These units have had great success locating children diagnosed with autism or Down’s syndrome.
In April 2004, the Aviation Unit acquisitioned a set of fixed floats that attached to the training aircraft. The need for this type of aircraft was necessary because of the increased number of water related calls that the STAR aircraft were responding to, but unable to offer any “hands-on” support.
After the installation of the floats, the aviation unit was afforded the opportunity to train on crew deployment into water with Patrick Air Force Base’s 920th Rescue Squadron. The aviation unit was also trained in basic water life-saving techniques with Brevard County Fire Rescue’s Ocean Life Guard Unit. Within three months of the floats being installed onto the aircraft, “Star Fish” had its first water rescue. At the entrance to the St. Johns River on Lake Washington, two airboats collided, partially submerging both of them in the water, out of reach of any aid via land. Several people were injured, one critically. Star Fish was called upon to respond and landed on Lake Washington. With the assistance of Brevard County Fire Rescue, the most critical patient was loaded into the aircraft and transported to a landing zone, where they were transferred to a waiting air ambulance and flown to the trauma center in Melbourne. Because of the types of calls Star Fish is responding to, the aviation unit has begun training paramedics with Brevard County Fire Rescue Station 43, which is also located at the Merritt Island Airport. The paramedics are versed on how to respond, work on, and operate around and in the float aircraft.This type of training ensures future responses of Star Fish will have dedicated paramedics trained to respond with the aviation unit.
In September 2005, the aviation unit added a fourth full-time pilot to the unit. In July 2006, the unit was awarded second place in the FLIR Vision Award at ALEA’s annual conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. In December, a second full-time mechanic was added to the unit. Sheriff J. R. “Jack” Parker and his staff were instrumental in the construction of a new hangar for the aviation unit at the Merritt Island Airport.
In July 2007, the unit was awarded third place in the FLIR Vision Award at ALEA’s annual conference in Orlando, Florida, and in October a second full-time Tactical Flight Officer/FLIR Operator was assigned to the aviation unit. The three city officers assigned to the aviation unit are still with the unit, working as day-shift Tactical Flight Officers. All three TFO’s have been involved in water rescues while working on day shift.
In 2009, the unit was awarded second place in the FLIR Vision Award at ALEA’s annual conference in Savannah, Georgia. During this year, we completed the construction of new offices, a maintenance shop, and a parts room in the hangar.
The aviation unit trains bi-annually in water survival techniques. Since 1998 the Brevard County Sheriff ’s Office has utilized Lunsford Air Consulting, Inc. for all of their flight training. This includes semi-annual recurring emergency day and night procedures, as well as night vision goggle training.
The aviation unit currently assists with approximately one thousand to twelve hundred calls for service per year, while only flying approximately 600 to 800 flight hours per year, operating seven days a week, twenty-one hours a day with an operational budget of $166,775 per year