Public Service

São Paulo State’s Air Support Group

By Claudio Agostini | July 1, 2008

The Brazilian state of São Paulo has more than 41 million inhabitants in its more than 96,135 sq mi (249,000 sq km). One of 26 states and one federal district in the country, it accounts for 32 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. The greater metropolitan area of São Paulo city, at 3,065 sq mi (7,944 sq km), alone hosts 20 million people. Its streets are crammed with more than six million vehicles.

It is easy, then, to understand why the state is home to the largest and most active military police air support unit in the country.

The São Paulo’s Air Patrol Group (Grupamento de Radio Patrulha Aérea, or GRPAe) officially started operations in 1984 after receiving its first Helibrase-built, Eurocopter-designed HB350B Esquilo. The unit actually started flying in 1983 with two Bell Helicopter 206 JetRangers leased from the São Paulo Electricity Co (CESP).


The Bells were tasked mainly with supporting police operations against a rising tide of robberies and assaults. Bank robberies in particular were stimulated by a 1978 change to the National Security Law that reclassified them from major to simple crimes and reduced the punishments associated with convictions for them.

The first Esquilo operated as Aguia Uno or Eagle One. The helicopters were based at local military units until mid-1987. The requirements of policing São Paulo have changed and increased since then. That, combined with effectiveness of helicopters in police support roles, have made rotorcraft an integral part of police operations. In August 1987, the Air Patrol Group moved to new headquarters on Campo de Marte, a joint military/civil airport.

The group today operates 16 helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft. The helicopters include one Sikorsky Aircraft S-76 in a VIP configuration to transport the governor of São Paulo state and 15 Eurocopter/Helibras AS350 AStars. The AStar fleet is made up of one B model, six BAs, six B2s and two B2VEMDs. (The fixed-wing fleet is composed of two Cessna Centurions, one Beechcraft Bonanza, one Beechcraft King Air and a Piper Seneca 2.)

At Campo de Marte, the group also performs basic aircraft maintenance, flight training and other training.

The unit is staffed with 331 police officers, of which 59 are military police pilot officers. Forty-one of those are fully operational and 18 are in training as operations commanders/second pilots. The pilots range in rank from first lieutenant to major.

The unit also includes 47 mechanics, ranking from soldier to first lieutenant.

All of the unit’s staff, except from a few auxiliary personnel, are sworn police officers.

Usually at least four operational helicopters are based at Campo de Marte. One is tasked with police missions and another is assigned to rescue duties. A third is a spare rescue bird and the fourth is a standby aircraft for either police or rescue work.

The rest of the unit’s helicopters are distributed to five other permanent bases throughout the state, ranging from east to west cities of the state far, 40 – 180 nm (80 – 330 km), from São Paulo city. These are at Bauru, Campinas, Ribeirão Preto to the north and northwest, São José dos Campos to the northeast and the Praia Grande seashore to the southeast. (One Centurion is based in Bauru; the other fixed-wing aircraft at are Campo de Marte.)

The helicopters carry basic first-aid kits, and a basic medevac kit can be installed or removed in less than 15 min.

The four other cities with local military police units — Sorocaba, São José do Rio Preto, Presidente Prudente and Piracicaba — are supported by helicopters from the nearest military base. They will fall under the Air Patrol Group in the near future. The first of these new bases is scheduled to be operational within two years. Officials are developing a bid tender for a new local team and helicopter.

The group’s typical crew depends on the mission flown.

Police missions will have a commanding pilot, second pilot/tactical flight officer and two police officers/observers. On medevac missions, the crew will consist of a commanding pilot, second pilot/tactical flight officer, flight doctor (civilian or police) and a flight nurse (typically a police sergeant).

For beach patrols and water-rescue missions, the helicopter will carry a commanding pilot, second pilot/tactical flight officer and two rescue swimmers from the São Paulo Fire Dept. During the summer, four aircraft are assigned to water-rescue duty. One covers that mission for the rest of the year.

The AS350’s basic equipment includes a Wulfsberg Flexcomm multi-band, airborne FM/AM radio communications systems; a FLIR Systems forward-looking infrared sensor; a Spectrolab Nightsun 2 searchlight; and Breeze-Eastern hoists. They also are fitted for Bambi buckets and rappel kits.

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