Flying in Circles

Flying in Circles title=
Flying in Circles
16 Comments
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By John Wiley

Sometimes ATC will tell an inbound pilot to fly a "360" for good spacing between inbound aircraft. Sometimes a pilot will request clearance from ATC to fly in circles near an airport or flight corridor. Sometimes a pilot will fly in circles due to a problem (landing gear, mechanical, electrical, etc.).

This afternoon an aircraft flew a circle near our house (154@101). My ear perked up but I didn't think much about it. Then it circled again. Many more times. To get a better idea of what it was about I first checked on Edhat. Not apparently related to the article about NASA oil research today, so I grabbed the camera and went out to snap these pix to send Ed and maybe get some solid info from our remarkable Edhat community.

As you can see from the track, it was below 3,000' or so. As you can make out in my pix, it has some sort of camera or sensor hanging off the empennage (tail section) that seemed to be tracking a point somewhere in the circle.

So, any ideas or info?

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montecito_matt Jul 01, 2022 10:00 AM
Flying in Circles

Is this the plane that will be flying in Santa Maria to conduct the Illegal Fireworks enforcement? Looks like a thermal/optical camera on the gimbal that could be used to track the launch of fireworks. Probably becoming acquainted with the area doing these orbits.

John Wiley Jul 01, 2022 10:36 AM
Flying in Circles

Interesting idea. Maybe calibrating on the fireworks launch area at West Beach before the event, in that one pass by the harbor? The plane was circling for quite a while in a busy approach path for the airport by 101@154 (far from the harbor), so that had to be something fairly important.

John Wiley Jul 01, 2022 10:27 AM
Flying in Circles

The aircraft (N1850R, a Cessna 206H Stationair registered to SB County) is still shown on the ground at KIZA (Santa Ynez Airport) after yesterday's flight as of 10am on FlightAware. Their flight track shows it at about 1,000' above sea level flying at about 100 knots. Mapping of some kind? If that black attachment is a camera, they could have been monitoring a crime or search since that aircraft is vastly more economical to operate than a helicopter. But they also circled a couple of miles NE of Vandenberg Village after leaving here, before landing back at IZA. I'm surprised nobody else seems to have noticed. In contrast, the Gulfstream-III jet doing the oil slick study out of Palmdale cited in yesterday's informative article was zipping along at 429 knots up at 12,000 feet.

montecito_matt Jul 01, 2022 10:57 AM
Flying in Circles

Through more research, found out that this is the SB Sheriff's Office and their fixed wing. Would explain the orbits over these areas (looking for cook fires in the camps around 101/154?) and other locations in the county. Very cool to see the NASA jet and other military aircraft that overfly the area. The plane towing the Coors banner just flew over the 154 area too.

John Wiley Jul 01, 2022 12:14 PM
Flying in Circles

Thanks for the Sheriff confirmation, Matt. I was surprised not to see the usual aircraft photos online when searching on that tail number. Maybe they've done takedown requests on any that the plane spotters may have posted. The SBC Air Support page says, "A Cessna 206 airplane rounds out the aircraft inventory at the ASU. The Cessna is primarily used for law enforcement surveillance missions and personnel transport." Unlike the helo fleet I don't see a pic of it, but it if was acquired recently maybe they've not yet gotten around to adding a pic of it. The only official info on current registration I found looks like maybe the County got it from the feds 5/7. https://registry.faa.gov/AircraftInquiry/Search/NNumberResult?NNumberTxt=1850R

Blobzilla Jul 01, 2022 11:01 AM
Flying in Circles

I also noticed it yesterday afternoon, and wondered what it was doing. Thank you Matt and John!

John Wiley Jul 01, 2022 12:21 PM
Flying in Circles

Cottage inbound helo, speaking of SB aerial phenomena. Just now heard the small, fast medevac helicopter inbound to the hospital. We hear it often passing over 101@154, and the sound seems to vary based on medical condition of the patent. This one sounded fast, so we may see a scanner report about a serious accident. Every time it goes over we pause a moment to wish full and speedy recovery to the patient.

ScannerAndrew Jul 01, 2022 12:56 PM
Flying in Circles

Mercy Air medical transport flight from Sierra Vista Medical Center in SLO to Cottage

a-1656748146 Jul 02, 2022 12:49 AM
Flying in Circles

I too pause to wish well, John. Thanks for this info and discussion. There's been a *lot* of survey activity this week, and some bigger helicopters.

ScannerAndrew Jul 01, 2022 12:47 PM
Flying in Circles

This is indeed the Sheriff plane. Not sure why it's not registered under the Sheriff's department, maybe they don't wan the public to know. I'm not fully sure, but there was a prisoner that accidentally was released from jail and I think that's why they were flying there. I'm not sure what's up with our two law enforcement copters (Bell OH-58As), they seem to be unavailable. One hasn't been flown in 6 months apparently, and the other one might be getting maintenance in Oxnard. So that's why this plane is being used more often

John Wiley Jul 01, 2022 02:12 PM
Flying in Circles

Excellent sleuthing on top of your breaking news scanner coverage. Thanks, Andrew. :)

ScannerAndrew Jul 01, 2022 03:19 PM
Flying in Circles

No problem! Have a good 4th!

Lina24 Jul 02, 2022 04:30 AM
Flying in Circles

Did it go over the mountain? In higher elevation areas, fixed wings need to circle after takeoff to gain elevation to be able to clear the higher ridges. Not sure if that's needed at sea level to gain elevation though.

John Wiley Jul 02, 2022 10:44 AM
Flying in Circles

Yes, though it dropped down to low altitude once across the pass and headed toward VAFB. It was probably lightly loaded, so climbing over the pass without circling would be effortless for such a high performance aircraft.

John Wiley Jul 02, 2022 10:52 AM
Flying in Circles

Anyone know what those two dark rectangles on the bottom of the tail section are? Maybe access opening for the camera electronics, down-facing cameras, or something left over from when it was a federally operated plane? It seems likely that we'll see more info once it's been in use for a while, if as seems they only acquired it in May. Maybe someone in Santa Ynez will post photos or provide more info. That airport has a great viewing area including a picnic table under a shade tree, and we've often seen one or more people there watching the comings and goings.

John Wiley Jul 02, 2022 03:35 PM
Flying in Circles

Past circling by N1850R has apparently been higher over fire areas, and low over likely homeless camp or crime areas. Looks like a great addition to the fleet, for lower-cost and longer duration missions than the helicopters can provide. Since google already finds this Edhat article I may post a pic to FlightAware.

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