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Whose helicopter is that?

At my old apartment, helicopters used to buzz by all the time. Eventually I got to wondering what they were up to— who did they belong to, where were they going, etc. So here are some quick notes on how to identify a helicopter or plane that’s flying near you.

  1. Go to a flight tracker site and zoom into your location. There are lots of good sites, but most of them are just embedding Airnav Radarbox’s map, so you might as well go direct to the source, . If you’re having trouble figuring out which flight path on the flight tracker matches to the aircraft near you, there are two easy ways to help you disambiguate.
    • First, figure out what compass direction it was heading in. Whip out the compass app on your phone if you need to. You can compare that heading (direction) to the flight paths on the site.
    • Second, pick a likely candidate and click on the aircraft icon in the flight radar website— it should tell you what model helicopter it is. You can google that model and figure out if the shape & other features match.
  2. Click on it and get its registration number (aka an “N-number”). The reg number will always start with “N”, and look something like “N342FR” or “N355AG.”
  3. Now go to the FAA’s aircraft registration lookup page and click on “Look up an N-Number” on the right. Enter the registration number.
  4. Now you can scroll down a bit and see the name and address of the registered owner. If it’s an LLC (it usually is), you can google it.

Another thing you can do is check out its flight path and flight history; that can often tell you what it’s doing. In my case, it turned out that most of the annoying helicopter noise was coming from air taxis heading to and from the Hamptons. Why do we allow a handful of people to disturb the entire city just so they can save half an hour on their weekend leisure trips? If you think this is as ridiculous as I do, check out Stop the Chop.