Drone pilot charged after leaflets dropped over NFL games

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SAN JOSE – A federal criminal complaint was filed yesterday, charging Tracey Michael Mapes with violations of national defense airspace.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the complaint, Mapes, 56, of North Highlands, in Sacramento County, modified an unmanned aircraft, or drone, by adding a compartment underneath its belly to carry a payload and used that compartment to hold dozens of flyers that read “WARNING! STOP THE TV WHORE TAKEOVER!” with text alleging government control of the media.

On November 26, 2017, Mapes flew the drone over two National Football League games and dropped the flyers on the spectators below. First Mapes piloted the drone over Levi’s Stadium, where the San Francisco 49ers were hosting the Seattle Seahawks. He then piloted the drone over the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, where the Oakland Raiders were hosting the Denver Broncos. Tens of thousands of spectators were present for both events.

The Federal Aviation Administration, as part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is responsible for the control and use of navigable airspace within the United States. This responsibility includes designating certain airspace as important to national security, and restricting aircraft from operating within that airspace. This “national defense airspace” includes the area above and within a three-mile radius of National Football League stadiums during NFL games.

Mapes is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court on June 4, 2019 at 1:30 before the assigned duty Magistrate Judge in San Jose.

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