The Marion County Sheriff’s Office Aviation Unit was established in 1974 with the purchase of three Bell 47G surplus helicopters. These aircraft were used until the early 1990’s when they were sold. In 1993, the Sheriff’s Office purchased a Hughes 369D helicopter to replace the existing aging 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 a 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, a Downlink system, a moving map system, spot lights, and night vision goggles.
The primary mission of the Aviation Unit is to support our deputies on the road 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 on foot. We are also called to 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 two years street patrol experience.