TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — It was no ordinary drone that was able to evade a Tucson Police Helicopter earlier this year. KGUN9 On Your Side has the Police report on a drone able to fly higher, faster, and longer than anything the police pilot had ever seen.
Tucson Police answered a call from a Border Patrol helicopter the night of February 9th. The CBP crew said they were flying near Davis Monthan when a drone nearly hit the helicopter.
TPD took the lead as both helicopters tried to get close to the drone—-or what pilots call a UAS for Unmanned Aircraft System. Soon it was clear this was no off the shelf drone.
The TPD report says :
“The UAS was very sophisticated/specialized and able to perform like no other UAS I have observed.”
Your average drone is small, slower than an aircraft, and able to stay in the air maybe 20 minutes before it needs a new battery. Drone pilots need to keep their aircraft low enough so they can see where it’s going.
The green trails on a flight tracking map from ADSB Exchange that night shows the drone drew the TPD helicopter to altitudes between eight and ten thousand feet as the police aircrew circled to try to get a better look at the mysterious aircraft.
TPD’s pilot reported: “The UAS was able to fly into 40 MPH headwinds and still maintain 100 MPH air speeds. During the extended surveillance the UAS never displayed signs of reduced power or weakening power supply. It was clearly not a store bought, phone controlled UAS.”
Vic Moss is with Drone Service Providers Alliancen an industry group for drone users. He says, “This is not a normal drone, this is not one of those things you go down to Best Buy or Amazon charge and throw up in the air. There’s some serious money, some serious r&d behind this drone.”
Moss says a drone able to fly as far, fast, and high as this one sounds like military hardware but it could be the work of a sophisticated hobbyist.
“The theories are it’s a DOD drone, it’s a government drone that is under development that either got away or they’re doing something they shouldn’t have done; it was a rich tinkerer who has a little more money than sense and put one together in his garage and either it got away from them or they were doing something they shouldn’t have done.”
Moss thinks if the drone was doing surveillance at Davis-Monthan it wouldn’t have had a marker light on it and he thinks a drug smuggler would have used something smaller.
Whatever it was, TPD’s helicopter crew says the drone went as high as 14 thousand feet and was still flying when the helicopter ran low on fuel and had to give up the chase.