“Its abilities were pretty incredible” — FAA audio points to confusion during and after police helicopter’s encounter with strange aircraft.

This is a good must read from THE DRIVE about a mystery in Tuscon.. BRETT TINGLEY AND MARC CECOTTI write:

On February 9, 2021, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) helicopter encountered what was described as a “highly modified drone” hovering in controlled airspace above Tucson, Arizona. A Tucson Police Department (TPD) helicopter was called in to aid the CBP aircraft in its pursuit of the small aircraft, but the drone, or whatever it was, was able to outrun both of them as it flew through military airspace, deftly maneuvered around both helicopters with bizarre agility, and ultimately disappeared into cloud cover above the altitude the helicopters could safely fly. A police report previously obtained by The War Zone showed that the TPD crew described the drone as “very sophisticated/specialized” and “able to perform like no other UAS” they had previously encountered.

Now we have the actual audio from the CBP helicopter’s interactions with air traffic controllers in Tucson during the incident, as well as audio from an after-action call between the TPD crew and the air traffic control tower.  From the conversations heard on the recordings, which The War Zone obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), it’s clear that all parties involved with the incident were baffled by the drone’s performance, noting that it appeared “super sophisticated” and possibly satellite-controlled. If you haven’t yet caught up on the Tucson mystery drone saga, be sure to read our most recent reporting.


In the air traffic control (ATC) recording of the 70-minute long incident, the CBP helicopter crew member can be heard describing the drone as a “dim flashing light,” and also notes that he cannot track it while wearing night-vision goggles. In the call, the helicopter crew repeatedly identifies the drone’s location as directly above Davis-Monthan Air Force Base or the fuel tanks just west of the base. The crew can also be heard wondering what the unmanned air vehicle’s (UAV) size might be, repeatedly stating that its high speed and impressive maneuverability made it difficult to get a decent visual identification. 



Reviewing the commentary on the THE DRIVE article, this particular comment is incisive:

A few points as I hear it play out.

  1. I have hard time believing it is LOS controlled as the guys in the 2 copters have a hard time seeing it even when they are just 100’s of feet away. Especially as it climbs to over 12K in height and moves miles in multiple directions. Maybe some type of radar controlled but the more complicated the control, the more equipment which means greater weight which means less performance. I have a very hard time believe sat control in real time due to latency, BW, and some of the issues mentioned previously.
  2. If that thing is battery powered the pack would be putting off a huge amount of heat after exerting the amount of energy needed to drive it to 12K feet while flying rings around the copters. If it was powered by some form of propellant you would easily see the exhaust.
  3. I agree, with one of the pilots, not your Radio Shack drone lol.
  4. The constant climbing circular orbit implies to me some form of copter type design unless it is a tick toc like device. The initial report was quad copter and am thinking that could be accurate even though the performance says otherwise.
  5. Would love to know who the controller keeps calling to give updates.
  6. The darting all around comment at 37:45ish is telling. He certainly is not failing as the copter pilot hopes.
  7. 65 knots west bound is clearly not a balloon so you can knock that off the list

What if the strike ends and no one cares?
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