The Aviation Unit is commanded by Chief Perry Hagaman and supervised by Lead Pilot Matthew Bellamy and is responsible for the operation and use of the agency’s aircraft which is utilized to support the patrol function of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office by acting as a force multiplier. The aviation unit further supports the sheriff’s office and the citizens of St. Johns County through surveillance, searches for missing persons and suspects, search and rescue, command and control during firefighting operations, and photography to support with aerial photographic evidence.
The Sheriff’s Aviation Unit utilizes both citizen and former military helicopters which are outfitted with modern infrared technology (FLIR), radio systems, moving maps, and digital video downlink. These technologies and enhancements allow the unit to be a key asset to not only St. Johns County, but to several local, state, and federal agencies as well. The unit currently has two helicopters: a Bell 407GX, call sign Knight 1; and a Bell OH-58, call sign Knight 2 (a military surplus aircraft.)
The unit consists of a combination of full and part-time pilots, as well as 7 tactical flight officers (TFOs) to complete missions and requests for support. The TFO is a sworn law enforcement deputy whose primary responsibilities include: aerial command and control, communications with ground operations, utilization of onboard camera systems, navigation, and further support as needed. They are considered to be the “link” between the aerial support and ground operations.
Our pilots are required to have at least a Commercial Helicopter Pilot’s Certificate, a minimum of 500 hours, time in the current models the unit operates, and be NVG qualified. It can take anywhere from 1 – 3 years to obtain these qualifications. Our TFOs are required to have a least two years of law enforcement experience, participate in a rigorous selection process, attend several schools and participate in on-going training to keep their skills sharp.
Our Aviation Unit was founded in 1997 when the agency was able to purchase a military surplus helicopter through the 1033 Program / Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) in exchange for starting a Drug Eradication Program. The unit has been in operation for over 20 years now.