A Tulsa pilot’s ham-handed attempt to cover his tracks has cost him his helicopter and earned him a two-year ban on flying or even owning an aircraft. William Stokely agreed to a plea deal with federal authorities last week to surrender his Robinson R44 and accept the flight ban after admitting he tried to outwit them by using a piece of electrical tape to change one of the registration marks on his aircraft from a Q to an O. Turns out that his five-cent solution to the fallout from a previous encounter with the FAA is a felony that could have put him in jail for three years. “I’ve been a bad boy in the eyes of the FAA,” he told Tulsa’s News On 6.
However it took a little digging by the Arizona Daily Sun in Flagstaff where the charges originated to find out the rest of the story. Stokely’s business is in Tulsa but he lives most of the summer in Flagstaff and that’s where he kept the helicopter and apparently had misbehaved with it before. Court records obtained by the Sun showed the FAA revoked his certificate for buzzing homes in Flagstaff with the helicopter. His hardware-store alteration of the helicopter’s tail number was his attempt to conceal the fact that he was still flying it regularly. But it wasn’t that crime that originally drew attention to him from the feds. According to the Sun they began investigating him because of a report of “suspicious behavior” when he was spotted filling jerry cans of fuel at the Winslow Airport and someone told the local Homeland Security office. Thinking he might be involved in something nefarious (he was caching fuel in the desert to extend the range of his helicopter) the federal agents started following him in 2011. They eventually determined that he wasn’t a national security threat but they’d also discovered the revocation and altered tail number and prosecuted him for that.