The Marion County Sheriff’s Office aviation unit was established in 1974 with the purchase of 3 Bell 47G surplus helicopters. These aircraft were used until early 1990’s when they were sold. In 1993 the Sheriff’s Office purchased a Hughes 369D helicopter to replace the existing ageing fleet. This aircraft served until 1997 when it was sold as surplus due to the acquisition of two Bell OH-58 helicopters from the US Military surplus program. The two OH-58 helicopters were purchased for $100.00 each and are still in service today.
Through the Department of homeland security program we were able to purchase state of the art, up to date specialty equipment. This purchase included new FLIR’S, Downlink system, moving map system, spot lights, and Night vision goggles.
The primary mission of the aviation unit is to support the officers on the street using the special equipment mentioned above. Some of our primary duties are to assist with lost person searches, wanted subject’s searches, and surveillance type activities. The air unit is a force multiplier and can conduct a search in a specific area in a quarter of the time it would take ground units to search it on foot. Not only are we searching for lost subjects, wanted subjects, but we assist state and local fire services when the need arises.
The aviation unit is housed at the Ocala airport and currently has 5 full time flight personnel and one maintenance technician assigned to cover seven days a week, 24 hours a day. All full time members are certified Law Enforcement officers with a minimum of 2 years street patrol experience.
Next time you’re in the area of the Ocala airport, we encourage you to visit the aviation unit for a tour.