Sylvan police to put remote flyer into service

Don’t worry, Sylvan Lake sunbathers.



Don’t worry, Sylvan Lake sunbathers.

Your private tanning time won’t be interrupted by the whirring of Sylvan Lake RCMP’s newest law enforcement tool — a miniature remote-controlled surveillance helicopter.

“We don’t have time to fool around,” Staff Sgt. Duncan Babchuk, acting commander of the detachment, said Wednesday.

The vehicle, built by Draganfly Innovations Inc. of Saskatoon, will only be used in certain circumstances and will in no way intrude on the privacy of residents, promised Babchuk.

The four-rotored Draganflyer X4 could be deployed as soon as a month from now, which is about how long he expects it will take to get a commercial use permit from Transport Canada.

Sylvan Lake RCMP will be the first police force in the province to use a Draganfly helicopter and possibly the first RCMP detachment in the country to have recourse to the still- and video-camera wielding machines, said Babchuk, who just got back from training sessions in Saskatchewan.

“Our members here, every one of them wants to fly it,” but only two other officers are authorized to, said Babchuk, also a pilot.

There are “endless” applications for the helicopter, such as when the Emergency Response Team faces a suspect barricaded in a building and police want to have a look without sending anyone closer, he said. Having an eye in the sky taking pictures would also be a boon to crash reconstruction, Babchuck added.

“All summer, missing kid, missing kid, missing kid. If you could put a video (camera) up and pan the beach area . . . That would help,” he said.

Babchuk recalled one time his detachment could have been spared a lot of grief if they’d had the device.

After a shooting in a bar at Sylvan Lake in 2008, RCMP officers climbed up on the roofs of a bunch of buildings in a time-consuming search for the weapon.

If they’d had the helicopter, they could have taken a look around in no time, he said.

The Sylvan Lake Fire Department has partnered with the Mounties, paying for one of the two controllers used to steer the helicopter and control its camera, use of which is aided by sunglasses fitted with a video feed from the chopper. It should be quite handy in their fire investigations or in case of wildfires, Babchuk said.

The X4 does have its limitations. It can’t fly in high winds and is difficult to learn to control — Babchuk has already crashed it twice.

Sylvan Lake RCMP initially purchased one for about $4,000 an early model that didn’t work properly, before upgrading for free to the $10,000 X4, and hopes to upgrade yet to the heavier-duty X6, which rings in at around $17,000.

The Ontario Provincial Police have a number of unmanned Draganfly aircraft. Saskatoon Police contract Draganfly services for aerial coverage of major vehicle collisions.

mgauk@bprda.wpengine.com

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