California Investigates Guard Spy Plane Deployment Over Commander’s Neighborhood


California Governor Gavin Newsom’s office says it didn’t know about or authorize the use of an RC-26B reconnaissance aircraft and a Lakota helicopter to monitor the quiet upscale neighborhood where the Air National Guard’s state commander lives while widespread rioting gripped the rest of the state last June in the wake of the death of George Floyd. The affluent El Dorado Hills suburb of Sacramento was the scene of a few small and peaceful protests while rioting swept Los Angeles, Oakland and Long Beach. According to a Los Angeles Times investigation, nobody seems to recall how the aircraft were ordered to El Dorado Hills, including the state commander Maj. General David S. Baldwin, whose name appeared on the orders.

The Guard in Minneapolis, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. came under scrutiny for using RC-26Bs, modified Metroliners with sensor pods and electronic ears, for surveillance of the large and sometimes violent protests there. In those areas the concern was that the military was using its assets to inappropriately gather intelligence on citizens exercising their First Amendment rights. The El Dorado Hills deployment raised other concerns. The aircraft were requested by the local sheriff’s office and Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Click said it should not have been approved by the Guard. “It was an operational decision made without the approval—let alone awareness—of the governor,” Click said in a statement to the Times. “After the incident, operational policies and protocols were reaffirmed and strengthened to ensure RC-26 aircraft are not used for these incidents again.” 

As for Baldwin, although his name appeared on the order, other senior officials are able to sign off on deployments in his name. He told the Times he couldn’t remember if he actually approved the mission because he was busy managing Guard activities at protests all over the state. “We had 10,000 soldiers deployed,” he said. “We were doing hundreds of mission taskings.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. Newsom has several CHP officers–armed, of course–to prevent rioting at his office, and you can bet they’re detailed to the Governor’s Mansion if any violence is threatened. These ANG aircraft, along with other equipment and troops, are supposed to guard our cities/towns/sanctuaries/skies against threats, both foreign and domestic. Hence, I’m not surprised to hear about this particular operation. There’s a plane that flies over our neighborhood virtually every night, orbiting over some location for some reason. It’s a turbocharged piston single, so it’s probably not part of the CANG inventory. In any case, it’s probably going to show up again tonight.

    Maybe we’re being ‘guarded’….

  2. It amazes me how little the populace understands the Command function of individual States’ Guard military forces. Unless Nationalized by the President aka the Commander-in-Chief for specific emergency purposes, they are under the Command of a Senior State Military Officer — in this case MGen Baldwin — AND the Governator … in much the same way as the President is ultimately the Commander-in-Chief of our active military along with Joint Chiefs. If a subordinate officer was authorized to use a MGen Baldwin signature for operational authorization, then both he/she and Baldwin are responsible along with the Governor. Obfuscation is no excuse. The proverbial “buck” stops at their respective desks. To claim ignorance as an excuse is bravo sierra. The pilot of that RC-26B didn’t just grab the keys and go for a ride but I’ll bet that someone WILL hold him responsible to deflect criticism.

    It’s not clear if this use of a State Guard asset was viewed as illegal, or not. It intimates so but … I can’t make heads or tails out of it? Guard units are always anxious to both prove their “mettle” and to get actual operational experience as opposed to either talking about it or chasing themselves around the block. Under the exigencies of what was going on in the Country at that time, the situation could be as simple as the asset was “in the air” and ready for further while showing the Boss what they could do while motoring around? So what?

    Recently, I learned that Newsome has a ranch in Idaho (how does a public servant do that?) and was there over the Labor Day holiday. I wondered how he got there. Given his position as the Head Chicken Choker, I wondered if he maybe didn’t use a State airplane or a Guard airplane. Inquiring minds would like to know.

    • How does a public servant do that? Larry since you are inquiring, you will be interested to know that Gavin Newsome was a successful entrepreneur prior to becoming a public servant which is why he can afford a ranch in Idaho. And no, he will not anytime soon need to repay $420 million in personally guaranteed debt off of which he has falsely claimed to be successful like someone else we know.

      • They’re trying to get a recall vote to oust “Any Twosome” Newsom. I sent in a ballot, and I hope that effort will be successful.

    • It’s not illegal, and when those assets are deployed, they’re authorized at whatever level of command will designate the mission profile, crews, aircraft and support resources. You forget we had rioters threatening our public officials, so when they’re in the cross hairs of some rabble of revolutionaries, they need protection. You would call the police to protect your life and property, but these people have their own means to keep them safe.

      You should witness the cadre of protective forces when a VOLANT SILVER Deployment comes to town.

  3. That turbocharged single is a GippsAero GA8 operated by the California Highway Patrol (look up N142HP)

    Yes, it orbits neighborhoods night after night. I was told, but can not confirm, that in addition to infrared camera surveillance, it acquires and analyzes electronic signals.