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FBI investigating lllegal drone activity near Tucson

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-07 21:18:31-04

TUCSON, AZ — Federal officials are investigating after a "highly modified drone” flew dangerously close to a Customs and Border Patrol helicopter in February.

The CBP helicopter was just minutes into its flight when the encounter with the drone began.

The flight path shows how the pilot maneuvered multiple times to avoid a possible collision. The drone was flying at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour and flying at altitudes well above 10,000 feet.

“There’s a lot of rules that are being broken here," says ABC15 Chief Engineer, Ryan Steward.

“If you are at or near 100 mph that’s okay, at that altitude that’s not okay being closed to a manned aircraft is not okay,” Steward said.

The FAA says the maximum altitude for flying a drone is 400 feet unless you are next to the building, a mountain, or some other large structure that requires you to fly above it.

A Tucson Police helicopter responded to the Border Patrol pilot’s call for assistance and followed the drone for more than an hour.

In a report, the Tucson police helicopter pilot said the drone maintained a 100 miles per hour speed even when it flew directly into a 40 mile per hour headwind.

The Tucson pilot also observed there were never any signs the drone was losing power.

The pilot said, “it was quite clear this was not like any other U.A.S. (unmanned aerial systems) that we have experienced.” The Tucson police helicopter pilot, running low on fuel, had to end his pursuit.

“It’s interesting someone is capable of all those things, but that makes you wonder what they’re doing with all those things,” Steward said. “What’s the end game with having something of that capability?”

It’s a question the FBI wants to know the answer to as well. It has launched a criminal investigation of the incident.