Updated: Dec 9, 2019
I have lived in Central Florida for the greater part of my life. My mother is a native Orlandoan and much of my family has lived here. My dad was stationed here in 1956 through 1960 when I was in grammar school at Blankner Elementary. We were the "Blankner Beavers," a respectable mascot in those days. They have since changed the name to the Bulldogs no doubt to spare the young ladies ridicule in high school. I've lived in Florida from 1989 to the present when I moved from Texas. I moved here with my wife and very young son and daughter because I love the water and I remembered how much fun it was growing up around Orlando. The ocean, the springs, the lakes. That was all before Disney, when Orlando was a backwater agricultural center of orange groves and beef cattle. Orlando International Airport was then called Pinecastle Air Force Base, home of a squadron of B-47 bombers and later B-52s. On an interesting side note, the runways are two of the longest runways in the US and they run north and south. Both the B-47 and the B-52 have tandem landing gear which means they have to be flown off the ground before rotating significantly. The wind in Central Florida blows predominately from the NE which means they were forever taking off in a cross wind. . . . Oops!
But back to Florida and water. Central Florida is pockmarked with lakes of all sizes and shapes. From the air it looks like Swiss cheese. Most of them are sinkholes as Florida is slowly sinking into the ocean over time as the limestone collapses below. A new sinkhole comes along every so often and makes the news, swallowing up expensive car dealerships and even occasionally a human being. Tornadoes, hurricanes and sinkholes, what's not to love. But I do love it, even more now that I can look down from above and appreciate just how much water is actually down there. Holey $#!+!, no pun intended. This is currently my team's primary search area. Look for an article on area familiarization by ground and air coming soon.
Paramotor pilots have a special fear of the water and for good reasons. Up until recently, drowning was the number one cause of fatalities when paramotoring. Now it is prop strikes, I understand. But many, many search operations are going to be over the water. Water is a two edge sword for the flyer. Here in Central Florida it is hard to fly outside of a safe landing zone area if you count the water as one. And the good news is that most of it is around 8 feet deep and rarely more than 30 feet deep, which means your wing will probably remain on the surface making your equipment easy to spot and retrieve. But I am getting ahead of myself. Using a paramotor as a platform for search and rescue exposes the pilot to special dangers; low-level flight (reduced reaction time) and flying over an area with no safe area for landing in an emergency. Every terrain has it's own specific advantages and disadvantages. Desert, forest, farm land, swamp, etc. Each will require different methods of searching and preparation. Each will require the search team to adapt to the situation and specialize for the area.
The key to using water as a safe landing zone is to be prepared for it. To mentally embrace the possibility of ditching as not only a viable option but a good one that should be taken into account when designing a search pattern for the area. In an emergency at low levels you can't waffle. Yes, it is going to be a pain in the butt, if you ditch, to take your motor apart and clean it. It should be a team effort not only to speed things up but as a social event. It will make a great bull$#!+ session where your team mates can ridicule each others' skills and assess blame. WD-40 along with a moderate application of grain alcohol will make the process much more enjoyable.
In my next articles, I will go over how my trike and my flying outfit are rigged for water landings and how to prep for splash down. How your Ops guy will respond to your ditching. How you should have a PRB (pilot/paramotor retrieval boat) tracking you on the water, real time and keeping you in sight. My PRB is a 16-foot pontoon boat soon to be rigged with a pole crane on the bow (gonna get my money's worth out of that boat yet!) and tricked out with a paint job and the 451st insignia. I've got all kinds of cool ideas on outfitting it. Being a boat builder, I hope to build a high speed skiff for pilot rescue in skinny water sometime in the future. Click on the photo to see this guy's video.
Please feel free to make constructive comments or ask questions in the comments section below. Send me your ideas on over water search and rescue techniques, especially if you foot-launch which I don't and have no experience with what would be involved in a water landing. And if you live in a totally different type terrain, start thinking about how you would deal with an emergency landing at low altitudes. Nothing is too ridiculous until it is. Chime in!
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"Pierson traffic - Red Angel One - Mayday, mayday, mayday, Going for the water!"