Earlier this week, it was widely reported that two New York City residents were arrested and charged with a felony for intimidating an NYPD helicopter with a flying camera, or as it is popularly referred to nowadays — a drone. “Sources” told the Daily News that Wilkins Mendoza, 34, and Remy Castro, 23, were operating their remote-controlled Phantom DJI quadcopter — which is not called “a drone” anywhere on the company’s website — so close to the police aircraft that it had to take evasive maneuvers to avoid a collision.
However, newly released audio of the exchange between the NYPD pilots and an air traffic controller at LaGuardia airport present an entirely different story. The high-flying cops make some pretty outrageous claims, as one tells an air traffic controller:
We just had an aircraft do a vertical climb pretty fast. Zero to about 2000 [feet] in less than 2 seconds.
Anyone who has operated a Phantom DJ knows this is virtually impossible (RIP ANIMAL One; RIP ANIMAL Two). That model can not achieve that sort of speed.
Once again, ANIMAL consulted with drone law expert Peter Sachs, Esq., who clarified.
I do not know which exact Phantom model it was, or whether it was stock or modified. So I cannot say whether it was possible with the craft they had. There are, however, plenty of videos of Phantoms of different varieties achieving altitudes of 2,000 feet or more.
The real dubious statements are found in the Air Traffic Control transcript. The NYPD pilot says, ‘zero to about 2,000 in less than two seconds.’ That’s a 682 mph vertical rate of climb. A little fast for a craft that has a maximum rate of climb of 13.42 mph. And there is no indication of the Phantoms having caused a near-miss, or having caused the pilot to make an evasive maneuver.
Sachs also clarified the general legality of Phantom DJs, levying actual laws against the tricky semantics employed by the authorities:
They’re not illegal to use anywhere in the City except parks, unless one accepts the FAA’s absurd extension of the CFR and FAR definitions of (manned) ‘aircraft’ to include model aircraft. That FAA attempt to exercise jurisdiction over model aircraft has already been shot down once by an NTSB Law Judge as you know. (The words, ‘remote-controlled model aircraft’ and ‘drones’ are synonymous, by the way.)
At one point in the exchange, the pilot tells the tower, “He has to be military, he’s moving.” Eventually, the police figure out that it’s not a military aircraft, but a recreational, remote-controlled quadcopter. Once they get the two men into custody, the pilots can be heard discussing what to charge them with. “We don’t really know exactly what we have, maybe a reckless [endangerment].” (Photo: @Bossi)