UK Air Surveillance Firm Looks To Boost Anti-Poaching Operations In Africa

Written by Lyn Eyb

Military-standard single-person flying machines known as paramotors, which combine motor-driven propellers with parachutes or gliders to allow individuals to fly on their own, could soon be used in Africa to revolutionize border patrols and help stop poaching, according to their designers.

While paramotors have long been used recreationally, U.K.-based Parajet International says its latest military-style system could be used for policing and conservation work in Africa. The company is currently looking to market the machines on the continent.

“In the case of Africa, our key challenge and focus is to reach relevant parties within our target sectors and introduce them to PADSS (Parajet Aerial Defence & Security Systems) as a multi-mission capable platform. Whilst paramotors have existed for some time in the recreational market they remain relatively unknown to many, and it’s for this reason that we need to educate each target group,”  said Parajet’s brand manager, Dan Wareham.

The Palm Bay Police Department in the U.S. already uses the system, with a team of airborne police officers using a paramotor for its SOAR – or Search Operations Aerial Response – operations.

“The Department often get called to look for missing persons, stolen vehicles or drug farms in the vast countryside surrounding the city,” said Wareham.

“On foot, this can take at least 20 officers a whole day to struggle through the densely vegetated undergrowth. With the PADSS platform fitted with thermal imaging cameras and surveillance equipment, these operations can take one officer around 30 minutes.”

The machines are also used by security agencies in South America and the Middle East, including a number of special forces units.

More Than Recreational

The system is easy to relocate to different launch areas – it packs down to the size of a suitcase – and can be assembled and launched within minutes.

“The differences between the recreational paramotor and the PADSS platform are very subtle,” said Wareham. “It’s multi-mission capability makes the PADSS aircraft a complete intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance (ISTAR) platform for law enforcement agencies, military forces, border surveillance and crisis response.”

He said the company had worked with special forces and law enforcement officers during development.

Wareham said one of the key benefits of the paramotor is that it is cheap to run relative to helicopters.

“It is really important to note that we are in no way stating that a PADSS aircraft is a replacement for typical aircraft such as the helicopter, but rather the deployment and operational savings means that the PADSS aircraft is a far more viable and cost efficient alternative for many mission profiles,” he said.

“One of the most widely deployed helicopters used by law enforcement and emergency services worldwide is the EC135, powered by twin turbine engines.

“The EC135 cruises with a fuel consumption of 250 litres of aviation fuel every hour at an approximate cost of £1,400 ($2,300) for the hour. The PADSS aircraft cruises with a fuel consumption of five litres of standard fuel every hour at an approximate cost of £1.50 ($2.50) for the hour.

“The capability for long flight times, low air speeds, low altitude operation, and nearly limitless take-off and landing options expand the capabilities beyond what is safely achievable by fixed wing aircraft or drones.”

He added that there we no export restrictions on paramotors, making the process of acquiring and introducing them into operation faster and easier than with military grade drones or traditional aviation equipment used in security and anti-poaching efforts.

In addition, the paramotor does not require specialist pilots

Wareham said the company was working with its African distributor to introduce the system to potential buyers within the security and surveillance sectors.

Organizations such as the WWF, in partnership with the Namibian Ministry of Environment and Tourism, already use unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, as part of efforts to track animals and keep tabs on poachers.

The UAVs are being used to complement ground-based surveillance and intelligence, and have the heavyweight backing on Google, which has provided funds to develop and advance poaching surveillance technologies.

Wareham believes paramotors have the potential to complement the work.