Updated: Dec 9, 2019
You must wonder how this whole Airborne Search and Rescue idea of using a powered paraglider for search and rescue came into existence. And what the hell is it exactly and who came up with the idea. I am certainly not the first person to see the value or potential in it. Some have tried in the past and others are trying today but lack a comprehensive plan. So, who am I and what are my bona fides with respect to this crazy idea. My name is Sandy Graves, the same as my father's. He was a pilot from the age of 19 and started his flying career by dropping bombs out of one of the most agile and dangerous airplanes ever built, the B-26 Marauder also called the "Widow Maker," "The Flying Prostitute," or more affectionately the "Baltimore Whore" - coming from the factories in Baltimore and said to have no visible means of support.
My dad is 96 today and still kicking albeit from a walker. I'm 71 and like my dad, I have always looked and acted younger than my age. But looks can be deceiving and over the past couple of years I have been made keenly aware of the need to start checking some things off on my bucket list. Learning to fly was one thing on the list. A big one! I've had an adventurous life. In 1968 I quit college and joined the Army and became a Special Forces medic. I served on three A-teams, a mountain team where we received alpine training and worked with pack mules, a scout swimmer team, where we swam our asses off, parachuted into the water and did cool frogman stuff, and I was on a SADM team (small atomic demolitions munitions) where we were basically the cruise missiles of the day. After that I worked first as a roustabout then as a derrick hand on drilling rigs for a couple of years and I have lived aboard a couple of sailboats for years, climbing around in the rigging and swimming down the anchor rode to free a fouled anchor in murky flowing water. Much of my life I have been hanging by a thread literally so learning to fly a paramotor seemed like it would be an easy transition.
I'm also retired from 17 years with the Fire Service as a firefighter/paramedic, probably the best job I have ever had working with the best co-workers you could imagine. More than co-workers, you spend so much time with these brothers and sisters that they become just that, brothers and sisters. And like any family, some of your members you like and some you don't, but you are stuck with each other day and night, so you learn to get along. I had the good fortune to get hired right out of standards by the City of Altamonte Springs, arguably the best department in Seminole County, Florida at the time. Altamonte Springs is a wealthy and well-run city and we had the best of equipment and training. I was assigned to their Special Response Team (SRT) for all the 10 years that I was with the department. We did a lot of high angle rescue training (rope work) including rappelling, doing pick offs from water towers, buildings and extricating from lift stations. We also trained in water rescue, and vehicle and structure collapse entrapment; all things that can be brought to the ASAR game. We had a small department of 70 people at the time and sadly for political and economic reasons, the department was dissolved in 2002 and absorbed into the Seminole County Fire Department. Life went on as if nothing had changed but it had. The county offered some things that the city didn't, specifically overtime. That was almost 20 years ago. Today, we members of the former Altamonte Springs Fire Department (ASFD) meet once a month, most of us retired from the Fire Service, and we shake hands, slap shoulders, swap lies, eat, drink and laugh; and we lament the recent losses of our members, Stan, Hally, Matt, etc. A lot of old adrenaline junkies and we're not getting any younger. All of this has played a role in my ideas of this venture, ASAR or Airborne Search and Rescue that is.
So I got a wild hair and bought a paramotor and got training and then took to the air. I'll have more to say on training in another article that might interest you if you are inclined to learn to fly. But right now I want to emphasize that this is not all about flying. All sorts of exciting skills are brought to bear when it comes to ASAR including boating in all its forms, climbing, computer navigation, first aid, videography, blogging and a host of other skills yet to be determined. Are there dangers? Of course. You are flying low often over water or land or working with ropes in trees or swimming or climbing in perilous conditions. Part of the challenge or the fun of it is addressing these risks and finding good solutions. Take emergency landings for example. Here in Central Florida, you can double or triple your safe landing zones if you know how to ditch safely and carry the necessary equipment to do so, since half of the ground is covered with lakes and rivers. It isn't ridiculous to imagine that in the near future; we build a training center with a simulator and practice ditching. I know something of landing in water and will gladly pass my experiences and knowledge along.
Yes, there are those naysayers to deal with that think this idea will never work. "It's been tried before," they say. Usually they bring up Palm Beach, blah, blah, blah. Nobody will work with you, etc. I'll address those objections in another blog. They are basically all bullshit. File it in the "GFY" file. This project is designed to bring positive thinking, like-minded people together to create a science almost from scratch, and to have a lot of fun in the process. All sorts of possibilities lie on the horizon. I'll show you how I recruit a team, what gear I wear, how to get a blog started, what I am learning from flying and anything and everything else pertinent to airborne search and rescue. I welcome other views. If you currently have a paramotor blog or vlog, so much the better. This will drive subscribers to your site. We need other views to make this work and especially your own ideas on how you think things should or could be done. We need people with radio experience, people who are up-to-date on apps that we can use. And we need people who have tried starting an airborne rescue program before to tell us what went wrong. Young people and old retired ones like me.
So, let's get this bird in the air! Contact me if you want to discuss anything pertaining to this project or join up with us and get started putting together a team.
What do we do?
How do we do it?
"Pierson traffic - Red Angel One - located at the SW end of Pierson runway - Prepped for take off."