NYPD Claims Drone Posed Threat to Cops. Let's Go to the Record.


The New York City Police Department (NYPD) on Monday arrested Wilkins Mendoza and Remy Castro on charges of felony reckless endangerment, claiming that the two men had put the lives of officers at risk by flying a drone dangerously close to a police helicopter. However, Mendoza and Castro, who were in court on Tuesday, maintain that the officers instigated the situation, and now there's evidence that lends some credence to their claim.

Let's let the cops tell their side of the story first. From the New York Post:

Two drones nearly took out an NYPD chopper over the George Washington Bridge … law-enforcement sources told The Post.

The Aviation Unit helicopter was on patrol around 12:15?a.m. when it had to swerve to avoid the small, unmanned aircraft, the sources said.

The NYPD pilots "observed flying object[s] at 2,000 feet in vicinity of the George Washington Bridge, then circling heading toward the helicopter," a police report said.

"The officers were forced to change their course to avoid a collision."

One source called it a "very dangerous" scenario.


The drones in question are DJI Phantoms, which weigh about two pounds.

LiveATC.net, a site that publishes air traffic control recordings, got a copy of the incident, and it doesn't sound nearly as dramatic as the way the boys in blue told it. You can listen to it here and judge for yourself.

Vice's Jason Koebler highlights some significant differences:

There's nothing in the recording to suggest that the helicopter pilot ever feared he'd crash, and there's nothing in the recording to suggest that a near collision is the reason the two were charged. The officer flying the helicopter originally believed it was a military drone. 

An NYPD representative assured that the drone "flew very close" to the helicopter, but as Koebler suggests, the only time the drone flew near the cops was "after the chopper pilot decided to chase the drone."

Furthermore, the cops seem to have been grasping at straws to charge Mendoza and Castro with something. "We really don't know exactly what we have, maybe a reckless [endangerment]. Not sure what exactly we got. Seems to me, if they were at 1,000 feet, they'd have to be operating that thing recklessly, regardless of whether or not it was a toy," one officer was recorded saying.

Unfortunately, one city councilman, Paul Vallone, has already jumped on this case, slapping it together with vague claims about terrorism, and is drafting legislation "to give the police department and fire department the ability to make a decision about drones without restriction. They should be allowed to take whatever measure necessary to regulate them." Hopefully that never takes off.

NEXT: Judge to IRS: WTF?

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  1. Constant Surveillance 1 Cops 0

  2. Fuck tha Poe Lease comin’ straight from the underground
    A young drone’s got it bad cause it’s ground…..ed….


      1. I did too.

  4. Cops are liars. Laws are vague. They can and will find something to charge you with for the crime of being different, or doing something unexpected.

  5. Again, each and every statement coming from the mouth of cops is unalloyed bullshit.

    1. OK, perhaps alloyed with corn.

      1. Wouldn’t that be pig shit?

        1. Yes it would. Yes it would.

  6. Sometimes man yhats how you roll with it.


  7. Is an example of the integrity and bravery of the NYPD and the unwillingness to let the terrorists win of the NY City Council?

    1. *ahem* arrest the “drone” “pilot”, not the actual pilot of the expensive publically-owned helicopter which the latter risked attempting to drown a toy.

  8. You know that I care what happens to you,
    And I know that you care for me.
    So I don’t feel alone,
    Or the weight of the stone,
    Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
    To bury my bone.
    And any fool knows a dog needs a home,
    A shelter from pigs on the wing.

    Sadly dogs aren’t even safe in the shelter of their home let alone from those damned dirty flying pigs.

    1. +1 airborne inflatable pig

  9. To summarize:

    NYPD helicopter decides to chase a drone, at night, for no apparent reason as the drone was violating no laws. The NYPD pilot flew too close to the drone, which is a very lightweight aircraft and therefor unstable in the vicinity of helicopter turbulence. When the pilot’s poor judgment resulted in his helicopter getting too close to the drone, he decided that he was the victim of a felony, filed charges, and proceeded to lie about it.

    I think that covers it.

    1. It’s not clear they were violating no laws. The area over the Hudson River is Class B airspace from 1300 feet up (1500 feet up over the adjacent land). Operating an aircraft above those altitudes without a transponder and when not in contact with ATC is probably a problem. I think in most areas FAA regs limit radio controlled aircraft to no higher than 400 feet AGL. As I said below, setting aside the regs even, a drone flying in that area is likely to pose a threat to the generally dense air traffic. Yes, they were operating relatively late at night, and yes, the.cops foolishly chased the drone, but I can’t help thinking the drone.operators were operating negligently.

      1. So we know they weren’t in the Class B airspace. The cops didn’t even try to lie about that.

        And the cops never mentioned the FAA regs. So we know that wasn’t the reason they chased it.

        We also don’t know if the NYPD has the authority to enforce FAA regs. Generally, locals can only arrest for criminal violations of federal regs where concurrent authority is explicitly granted. Couldn’t say if there was concurrent authority for the NYPD here, or whether the potential violation was a criminal violation. I’d be a little surprised if the answer to both was “yes”.

        1. Wait, the article said they were at 2000 ft. That’s clearly within the B airspace.

          1. For some reason, I read it as 1,000 feet. I really shouldn’t keep so much Scotch at the office. I stand corrected.

            Delete the first sentence, and the rest of my comment stands.

            1. Look, I already agreed that the cops acted foolishly here. I also believe the drone pilots were possibly negligent as well.

              1. I know, db, and we agree completely on both those points.

                I’m curious about whether the cops had any legal basis whatsoever for what they did. I’m kinda doubting it.

                But, the usual pattern applies:

                Cops act recklessly/extralegally, “civilians” charged with crimes.

                1. I would think a letter of agreement would have to be signed between the FAA and NYPD giving NYPD any authority here. It is possible the NYPD pilot could face FAA certificate action if he flew negligently here.

            2. A quick scan doesn’t tell me if there are criminal penalties for violating Class B space with a drone. The FAA has fined people (civil penalties) for being dickheads with drones in Manhattan, though.

              1. Mostly there are civil penalties because that’s the way the FAA is set up. You’re basically required to have an FAA certificate authorizing you to do anything in the NAS. If you.fuck up, they can limit or revoke your certificate. If you don’t have.one, I’m not sure what the penalties are either.

                1. They probably force you to apply for one, suitable deterrent.

            3. The 2000 feet is from a police report. The 1000 feet is in a quote from one of the cops. Since cops lie half the time, and talk out their ass the other half, I don’t think you can make any firm conclusions about what height the drone was flying at.

  10. They should be allowed to take whatever measure necessary to regulate them

    The NYPD has the authority to write laws governing, well, anything? Who knew?

  11. Headline suggestion:: Paramilitary force helicopter aggressively engages peaceful civilian toy.

  12. Pussies.


  14. It is the job of the NYPD helicopter pilots to maintain visual separation. If they followed the toy, it’s their fault, and they should be charged.

  15. One source called it a “very dangerous” scenario.

    The drones in question are DJI Phantoms, which weigh about two pounds.

    I’m not sure exactly why you placed these lines adjacent to each other, but a reasonable reading would imply that a two-pound object is a minimal hazard.

    Other pilots here (FdA, perhaps?) could confirm that a collision with a two pound object can make for a very bad day.

    These drones are not minimal hazards to air traffic. On the contrary, a quick look at the New York terminal area chart shows that the airspace around the GW Bridge is class B from an altitude of 1300 feet above sea level up to 7,000. In Class B controlled airspace, all aircraft are required to have an operating transponder so that they can be readily identified. In Class B airspace, air traffic controllers are responsible for providing separation services to traffic. Pilots also have responsibility to see and avoid other traffic.

    Set aside concerns of whether the government should provide ATC services for a minute and consider that regardless, the airspace around NYC is highly congested and no matter what, someone would likely be providing services there, and similar rules would apply.

    1. A collision with a 2 pound object would have significant consequences for an aircraft. Whether or not the police chopper should have.been.intercepting/chasing the drone (horrible idea IMO), the drone operators were quite possibly acting negligently in causing a potential hazard to other manned air traffic.in the area.

      1. If the phantom was in class B airspace, it’s not the NYPD’s business.

        Full disclosure: I own a phantom and I love it.

        1. Agreed, and I said the help should not have.been chasing.it. ATC is going to have a hell of a time trying to pick drones out of their teeth and trying to provide separation in the Class B. Even VFR traffic is subject to ATC in class B and pilots are required to be in 2-way radio contact wit ATC. if drone pilots want to operated in controlled airspace they need to play by the same rules, for everyone’s safety. The size.doesn’t matter.

          1. The latest firmware for the phantom won’t let you fly in class B. Assuming the GPS is working.

            1. Interesting.

            2. How does that jive with the reported altitude of 2000 feet?

              1. Older drone without the new firmware?

                1. Well, yeah, of.course.

                2. I have a phantom 1 with the old firmware. No reason to upgrade, because I know better than to do stupid shit with it.

                  I mostly fly near the beach, which is unrestricted south of LAX.

              2. I think the new firmware prevents it from climbing that high.

              3. “How does that jive with the reported altitude of 2000 feet?”

                Cops lie?

    2. All about the speeds and where on the aircraft it hits.

      Kinetic Energy is directly proportional to the square of velocity. Doesn’t take much to mess up an aircraft, especially if it goes down an intake.

      1. A helicopter (roughly) pacing a drone probably wouldn’t take much damage, I assume, unless the drone hit something fragile on the chopper?

        1. The rotor wash of a helo would blow the phantom out of the sky. I don’t know what NYPD uses, but LA police and Sheriffs fly A-Star 350Bs, which are pretty powerful for non-military helicopters.

  16. Fuck all cops.

    Fuck the ones that are liars, thugs and worse…and fuck the rest of them for allowing these shitbags to work amongst them.

    1. Do you know if the NYPD air division helps out with ADIZ stuff? LAPD sometimes gets tasked with intercepting unidentified light aircraft when they are in the neighborhood…

      1. I’m surprised LAPD gets involved with that. Have no idea if NY does.

        1. We get a lot of ultralight planes from Mexico that are incommunicado, and usually up to something. Closest ANG is Fresno, so LAPD helps out if Customs and Coast Guard don’t have any resources available. The LAPD choppers get to carry a .50 on board specifically for this purpose.

          1. REALLY?

            I thought arming a non-military aircraft was a no-no.

            1. Yeah, me too. I would have thought they would leave that work to the Coast Guard.

              1. LAPD charter required at least 3 airships up at all times, usually more on weekends and holidays. CGAS Los Angeles usually only has one HH65 Dolphin up, if that, and it is mostly tasked to SAR operations (and parades/demos/airshows). It flies by my house like clockwork everyday at 5pm on the way to LAX.

                I think it is really a matter of convenience, in that LAPD always has plenty of air coverage. Too much, in fact. They fuck around above my beach on weekends (out of their jurisdiction) because they don’t have anything else to do other then sightsee.

            2. Now that I think of it, I have seen (at the Knob Creek MG shoot) folks firing and M-60 out of a Huey. The opportunity was auctioned off and went for like $2500. I thought that helo was privately owned (by a museum group).

            3. The .50 isn’t mounted to the aircraft, it’s just stored on board.

              I have no idea if NYPD has a similar arrangement, but NYPD choppers also carry Barrett .50s on board.

              1. Okay that make a bit more sense… the way it read before make me think that there was a door mounted M2 on the aircraft, which is crazytown.

    2. Agreed, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on traffic conflicts with drones operating at such altitudes. “See and avoid” isn’t always easy even when the planes are bigger than a car, much less lawnmower sized.

      1. He can’t be in the Class B. I think as long as he’s in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace he’s fine (unless they’ve passed some rules recently that I’m unaware of). Class G goes from the surface to 700′ AGL or 1200′ AGL depending on where you are.

        1. Yeah, but the flight.in question was.in the Hudson River corridor, class B floor 1300 ft, most likely E from 1300 Down to 700, and G below.

          1. That would be likely. But as I recall, you don’t need a transponder or radio in Class E. Not sure if that means you can drone in it though.

            1. That area is definitely within the Mode C veil around JFK and LGA so a transponder is required.

              1. Forgot about that. Been a long time since I learned that stuff. We flew very little VFR and when we did we were required (by the AF) to get flight following if available, so it wasn’t something we exercised much.

                1. Have you seen the youtube video of the Canadian fighter pilots who landed at LAX as part of their training? They seemed a bit overwhelmed…

                    1. I took a T-38 into Navy Alameda once. That airspace is a fucking pain in the ass even when everything is working. One radio. Frequency change every couple minutes. No slack from the controllers.

                      By the way, I’ve flown at Cold Lake. That was some of the most awesome airspace in the world. Huge. Middle of nowhere. Few rules. Freeeedom!

                    2. I used to fly into Oakland once a week or so. Lots of abrupt, sharp turns. They have SFO and SJO nearby, plus NAS Alameda and Moffit (aka Google) Federal Field.

                      I wouldn’t work Oakland Center for any amount of money.

                    3. I would imagine for military pilots its a bit of a culture shock to do something like that… I would imagine that a F-15 pilot accustomed to flying into home a home AFB has a very different experience flying into someplace like O’Hare. Going from being king of the mountain to just another schmuck would be interesting.. that said, as a dirt eater I feel no actual pity for pilots.

                    4. “That was pretty sporty, eh?”

                    5. The T-38 had a speed waiver for 300 knots below 10,000′. About the slowest you could get it without dropping the flaps was about 240. They kept asking me to slow down. Sorry, can’t.

                      The other thing was it only had a UHF radio back then and they kept giving me frequencies in VHF, so in that busy airspace I had to keep asking for a UHF Freq. They were unhappy with me.

        2. Also I thought I read somewhere that FAA had passed a new rule limiting hobby flights of UAVs to below 400 AGL.

  17. DJI Phantom huh. Weighs about two pounds.

    So, how much can such a toy lift, I mean I’ve heard about outfitting them with cameras and such. I mean could it be made to lift a hundred pounds? I mean would it be maneuverable? If, say it COULD lift a hundred pounds, would something like a Hellfire cause it to spin out of control when fired? I mean, could a guy get his Phantom back if his Hellfire accidently went off near Police Headquarters, or a NSA Building?

    Suddenly, I’m hard.

    1. Dude, you’re going about that all wrong. If you can afford a single hellfire you can afford about a thousand phantoms, and a thousand 20 lb warheads.

      And probably have the money to pay someone else to take the risk of driving the drone into the building for you.

      1. [revises plan, checks EBay for Hellfire missiles]

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