Helicopter Information


Can anyone assist in getting helicopter information? There have been several low flights of a helicopter over the neighborhood. In one case, the wind from the helicopter broke branches from a tree onto the roof of the neighbor’s house. The FAA has confirmed the flight leaving Austin Bergstrom, but for some reason will not give up the tail number. I thought this was public information. Why would they sit on this?

I need to get confirmation on which flight was confirmed by the FAA, but one of the flights occurred around 10-29-2012 around 7:20PM local time in the neighborhood of Anderson Lane and Loop 1, approximately.

I don’t know if this is related or not to licensing backlogs for the Formula One race later this month. In any case, I can’t picture licenses being granted for a residential neighborhood.


In general, helicopters do not file flight plans, so there’s almost no way for the FAA to answer your question.

“Helicopter broke branches from a tree onto the roof of the neighbor’s house”? Extremely doubtful. Did you see this occur or are you repeating something you heard?


Yes, we were told no flight plan was needed. Why would you doubt the wind from the helicopter broke branches? I have no reason to doubt such a claim. The resulting ruckus is precisely what prompted the neighbor to complain. Would you suggest they went to all the effort of finding the phone number, etc., for no reason?


P.S. The tree in question was a sycamore. Sycamores drop branches with little provocation. They’re fast, but messy growers.


Do helicopters not use the SBS transponders,? Where I live over here in the UK,the main air traffic is choppers and light planes,with the ocassional balloon and paraglider
My location is due west of Sywell,Northamptonshire


To break tree branches the helicopter would have to be VERY low. For somebody to file a complaint against a particular helicopter or any airplane you have to see the registration, not get it from the tower or some other source. Seeing means unaided, no binoculars.
The same logic applies to somebody speeding down your street, without YOU seeing the license plate the cops can’t realistically do a thing about it. “It was a blue Ford” carries about as much weight as “It was a red helicopter”.


I don’t see what binoculars have to do with anything. Are you suggesting the numbers morph into different numbers when viewed through binoculars? That is absurd.

The purpose in getting the ID of the helicopter (one does not need to see the ID to get confirmation of the ID), is to contact the owner/pilot to ascertain what they were doing. I did this with a Cessna that buzzed the neighborhood. That plane was flying at under 200 feet on more than one occasion. After I contacted the owner, the behavior stopped.

… and I’m not interested in further discussions along the lines of that the plane was actually much higher than it looked. We already went through that in a different thread. Height was confirmed by triangulating from multiple observations. The same is not true for the helicopter as far as I know.


No, you misunderstood. rather absurdly.

The law says you must see the registration with the naked eye, no aids to vision. No morphing. Legally you need to see it, there is no other way to get confirmation.
All I am saying is if you want to file a legal complaint you have to have facts, not a third party who “knows” who it was.

I don’t know how high the helicopter was either, but to blow branches off of a tree he had to be very low, likely well under 100 feet. Was he taking or or landing with permission of the land owner? If so then he was legal.
Contacting the owner is better than filing a legal complaint. In the case you sited you got results, good for both of you. But without some sort of confirmation of who it was you could have just as easily got somebody who didn’t know what you were talking about. Whether he did or not.


This conversation is like talking to a brick wall. Perhaps an analogy.

Someone knocks on my front door, and I look through the peep hole and don’t recognize him. Later, I ask my next door neighbor if someone knocked on his door. He says yes, and I ask who it was. He gives me the information, and I contact that person: “Did you knock on my door earlier?” He replies yes or no, depending on if he knocked on my door or not or whether he wants to be truthful.

The point is, if he knocked on my door, and he is truthful, I can find this out by checking with my neighbor if he also knocked on my neighbor’s door and gave his information to the neighbor.

With the helicopter situation, I can’t believe there is a law preventing me from asking a helicopter pilot if he piloted his helicopter over my house. If there is, please cite me the law.

I’m assuming the law you’re speaking of is for something else, but I can’t guess what.

Airliners regularly fly over my house at an altitude that is too high to read the numbers with the naked eye. With binoculars, I can read the numbers. Are you suggesting it is illegal for me to use binoculars to read the number and then pull up that information here on flightaware? I can’t believe that’s what you mean, but what you write sure reads that way.


I guess I didn’t mention this earlier, although I did imply it, but the FAA apparently knows the details of the helicopter. They stated where and when it took off, what its destination was and what its altitude was. Can they know this information without knowing what the tail number is?

A neighbor is going through a FOIA request to try to get the information. My question is why should that be necessary?

Apparently, you have also jumped to the conclusion that I want to file a legal complaint. I have not stated that was the case. In fact, I gave a different reason for wanting the information.


I agree about the brick wall. lol
It sounded like you needed some help, I was trying to give it.
In my earlier days working at an airport there were all sorts of policies and procedures as you can imagine.
One was if somebody called up with a low flying or noise complaint without an N number we were to thank them and advise the caller that without that information gathered first hand it would only go into the general complaint file but no specific action could be taken.

Two, if they asked for any specific information about the low flying blue airplane we could not give it out because of security reasons and we had no way to know for sure who it was. I might have an idea but since I wasn’t there I could not speculate. The same goes for ATC, you mentioned FAA…I assume you mean the tower. They might have an idea who it is but there is nothing to say another helicopter wasn’t in the vicinity at the same time and not talking to the tower.

On the other hand If you can figure out who it is by all means try to find out why he was there and work something out, maybe he has a good reason that is not obvious to the rest of us. Try the helicopter operators at the airport, they may stonewall you but if you talk to somebody high enough the pilot may just get a slap on the hand. quietly of course, you will never hear of that happening.


Thanks. That was helpful. I’m at a bit of a disadvantage myself because I did not personally see the incident. It happened at least twice within two days, so neighbors have advised each other to familiarize themselves with helicopter models and to be sure to find a tail number if they see it happen again.

In the case of the airplane I cited earlier, multiple people got partial tail numbers. That, alone, says something about the plane’s altitude. Maybe that’s why the rule about no binoculars, but that would seem to bias against citizens with less than perfect vision. Apparently, a blind person is powerless to file a complaint about a low flying aircraft.

Perhaps this comment has some absurdity, but it illustrates why I think the rule is absurd.

How about photographic evidence? Would that be accepted?


Not only no, but hell no! You’d be labeled a terrorist!


The visual rule is a kind of a catch 22 rule. It was originally written when registration numbers had to be 12". The size requirement has changed since I worked at the airport (other than as a pilot) so now that I think about it I don’t know the current rule regarding visual evidence. I haven’t heard that it has changed but that doesn’t mean it has or has not. Your state may have a different rule too.
Along the same lines I would guess photos could be used but probably only as informational or corroborating evidence rather than direct evidence.
As I said I think your best bet is to look through the yellow pages for helo operators and start there. From what you said there is no information that it was a local operator, could have been a visitor. Just keep in mind everybody at the airport is under orders not to say anything, the lawyers have spoken.


If I remember correctly the last time I flew into Bergstrom I taxied past a Texas ANG facility on the south end with about a dozen UH-60 Blackhawks parked on it. If it’s a military bird that’s pruning your neighborhood then no the FAA will not know, nor be required to, disclose the “tail number”.

As for the “wind” from a helicopter breaking branches… come on, that’s ridiculous. To do that it would have to hover 20 feet above the tree and surely there would be plenty of curious eyewitnesses who could describe the pilot’s facial features from that short distance.


There are plenty of eyewitnesses, but I’m sure facial features were not in evidence because it was after sunset (7:20PM local time).

I’d like to see your basis for the 20 feet. I think a more reasonable number would be something like 3 times the rotor diameter for something significantly above the ground. For something near the ground, the ground provides a significant shield against the wind.

The downwash speed can be calculated if certain information is known.

Speed (ft/sec) = sqrt( weight (in pounds) / (2 * 0.002378 * rotor area (square feet))

I haven’t calculated it for this particular helicopter because I don’t know the details. Downwash can be over 100 mph, though. Obviously, the speed will decrease with distance from the helicopter. How much it decreases probably depends in part how long the helicopter is hovering.

If you can show a derivation of the 20 feet, I’d be curious to read it. I’d be even more interested in projected values for a sample helicopter for various distances, say 50, 100, 200 feet.

As I said before, I have no reason to doubt the neighbor who reported the branches falling. Reportedly it was the very fact of the branches falling that alarmed her in the first place.

Several likely suspects have been contacted concerning the incident. Eliminated are the police, Camp Mabry, a local TV station, Star Flight, and possibly one or two others. Neighbors are following through with a FOIA request. I guess I’ll just wait and see how that pans out. Anyway, the point of this whole thread has already been addressed.


BTW, the police advised neighbors to have binoculars and/or video equipment pre-setup in order to observe/record tail number, etc. should this happen again. I don’t expect the police to know the regulations, but I thought I’d point out that they specifically recommended binoculars.