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Powered Parachute takes crime-fighting to new heights

A grant through the DOJ allowed Virginia Tech to purchase the small aircraft

October 10, 2011|Karen Kiley | Reporter

BLACKSBURG; Va. — Planes and helicopters are routinely used in law enforcement, but Virginia Tech’s Police Department is putting something a bit different up in the sky.

It’s not your typical police vehicle.

“It's almost like being in a balloon,” said pilot Kevin Kochersberger.  “It’s very slow and peaceful.”

It's called a powered parachute.  It looks similar to a dune-buggy, with an open seat and a small motor, except there is a parachute strapped on the back to make it fly.

“It's fun, without a doubt,” said pilot Kenny Smith. “It's almost like it's not a job.”

The powered parachute was given to Virginia Tech through a grant from the Department of Justice. It will be used for both law enforcement and for research.

“I love flying,” said Smith. “I love being in the air.”

Virginia Tech Police Officer Kenny Smith is one of two police pilots. He'll use the powered parachute for aerial surveillance, search and rescue, and crime prevention.


“It won't be a tool that we can use every day, of course. It will be a call-out basis, as needed,” Smith explained.  

Kevin Kochersberger will fly the aircraft for research.  The mechanical engineering professor will use the powered parachute for testing things like 3-D cameras used for mapping terrain.

“In my case, I’ll be able to put imaging payloads on it and test the sensing capabilities that my lab is developing,” said Kochersberger, who works in the Unmanned Systems Laboratory at Virginia Tech.   

Both pilots are still in training, learning to navigate the aircraft's 30 miles an hour average speed, at altitudes of up to 10 thousand feet.

With just a few test flights under their belts, the pilots are already feeling confident in their newest high-flying tool.

‘You're on a parachute,” said Smith about the aircraft’s safety.  “So in all scenarios, if you're engine goes out or anything like that, you're not going to fall out of the sky. You're going to glide down to the ground.”

The powered parachute should be in use around Blacksburg in the next couple of months.
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