High Altitude Drone Encounter Prompts FBI Investigation


The FBI has joined the hunt for the operator of some kind of high-performance drone that flew “dangerously close” to a Customs and Border Protection helicopter over southern Arizona last Feb. 9. According to report from KOLD News, the Tucson CBS affiliate, the drone buzzed the CBP helicopter near Davis Monthan Air Force Base and then followed it for an hour, going as high as 14,000 feet. That’s well beyond the capabilities of commercially available drones and it clearly has the feds concerned.

The drone was tracked by several law enforcement agencies but they weren’t able to find the operator. There have been no further reports of the souped-up drone. Last week the FBI issued a public appeal for information on the drone and its operator, citing public safety. “While the drone(s) did not come into direct contact with an airplane or cause a pilot to make an evasive maneuver, the actions are illegal and extremely dangerous,” the FBI statement said.

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. So the big black helicopter didn’t like being followed by a mysterious aircraft? Interesting.

  2. What good is a border protection helicopter running way up at 14,000 feet? Don’t we have drones for that?

  3. This was a Cyber Ninjas’ drone just checking to see if the helicopter was made out of bamboo.

  4. Keeping up with a helicopter at “up to” 14,000 feet for an hour, and then returning to its owner’s location?? Presumably we’re talking fixed-wing type.

    • There’s no telling. These days anything that is radio controlled is a drone. Could have been a turbo-charged Falcon 56.

  5. Probably one of the several drones Customs flew along the border and lost control of and thought to have crashed!