Flying a small plane under radar?

is it still possible to "treetop" fly a small plane and stay off the governments radar...im guessing nowadays their radar is so advanced it can pick up hummingbirds if they really wanted to...just wondering....also do people still cross the us mexican border in planes and miss radar? im doing a report on 1980's vs Todays cocaine smuggling for school cant find much info..... any help?

Update:

Wow Guys, Thanks for the responses!!!!! you all have been extremely helpful! So many good answers i cant pick the best one. Thank you all so much... Im going to get an A. I can feel it. :) What about a piper comanche 400 with tip tanks? anyone know about this aircraft??? Range capabilities? you guys are all awesome!!!!!!

7 Answers

Relevance
  • Favorite Answer

    It depends. If you're flying someplace with an AWACS plane on patrol, with its look-down radar, you'll get spotted.

    Still, it's possible that drug runners may get across the border at treetop level. They'll try, anyway.

    • Login to reply the answers
  • Anonymous
    9 years ago

    Air surveillance radar used in air traffic control cannot pickup a single hummingbird. It might pick up swarms of migrating geese, but the technology has advanced not in sensitivity, bot more in capability and software. Where radar exists, and where you might be picked up on it, depends on where you're flying and what kind of airspace you're flying in. It also depends on how big of an airplane you've got...a small plane like smugglers would use is harder to be picked up. The busier the area, like in S. Calif, the greater your chance you will be on someone's radar scope, depending on how far you are from the antenna and your altitude. Departing LAX, you'll be on ATC radar from the surface, then at gradually ascending altitudes. ATC enroute control radar coverage exists throughout most of the U.S. and Mexican airspace (run by Mexico's govt, not US) from Mexico City all the way to the border. Yes, radar signals are distorted or blocked by terrain, weather, and other anomalies, and an airplane could entirely avoid radar detection if it flew not only low while enroute, but also took off and landed in a remote area where radars don't pick you up all the way to the surface.

    I don't know what the smugglers do, but I'll wager it's at least one of three things:

    1) The aircraft they fly are unregistered, and even if they are, they're registered to a non-existent or decoy entity.

    2) They don't carry a transponder radio. A transponder is a device that sends information about the airplane, such as altitude, speed, and sometimes flight number to the radar controller. No info means all the controller sees is a dim little blip on his scope, has no idea where the airplane is from or where it's going, and has busier airline traffic to deal with anyway.

    3) They don't file flight plans. Flight plans are in essence a record of the flight. No smuggler wants that. They just get in and go.

    Source(s): I applied for a cartel smuggling position, but I was told that if I ever opted to leave them they'd hunt me down and roll me up like a joint and smoke my a**. So I decided that good ol' boring transportation of suits was a better way to earn a paycheck. Disclaimer: That first sentence was a total lie.
    • Login to reply the answers
  • 9 years ago

    Within the continental U.S., there are many areas in which you can fly low enough to not be clearly visible on radar … but there isn't much reason to avoid radar if you aren't doing anything illegal, and it can be dangerous to fly low.

    The border areas are much more carefully monitored by radar, so flying low isn't likely to help. The government got wise to that decades ago. That's why you see little circular prohibited areas on charts near the borders: these areas contain tethered balloons and radar equipment that can detect even low-flying aircraft attempting to cross the border.

    In general, a pilot flying legitimately has everything to gain from radar contact and nothing to lose.

    • Login to reply the answers
  • 9 years ago

    The main reason they escape radar detection, there is no radar coverage in the area. That is why certain areas have radar on tethered balloons. They look straight down and detect lateral movement. Be sure to check NOTAMS on certain routes, as a steel cable 10,000 feet long is not fun to fly into.

    EDIT:Perhaps I got a thumbs down for misstating the tether length. Here is the correct info:

    Tether Length: 25,000 feet (7,600 m)

    Payload Weight: 1,200-2,200 pounds

    Maximum Detection Range: 200 nautical miles (400 km)

    Operational Sites: Yuma and Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Deming, N.M.; Marfa, Eagle Pass, and Rio Grande City, Texas; Cudjoe Key, Fla.; and Lajas, Puerto Rico. Sites located at Morgan City, La., and Matagorda, Texas, are in a cold-storage configuration. Contract management office and logistics hub are located in Chesapeake, Va.

    • Login to reply the answers
  • How do you think about the answers? You can sign in to vote the answer.
  • Wendy
    Lv 4
    4 years ago

    FCC regulations prohibit the use of cell phones in flight, and that includes small, private passenger planes. Technically, it shouldn't be a safety issue, it's just illegal. The FCC regulation (47 CFR § 22.925) applies to ALL aircraft, not just commercial aircraft. There is a separate FAA prohibition on portable electronic devices, if they haven't been determined to be safe by the pilot (14 CFR § 91.21, for private planes), but since the FCC prohibition is absolute, it overrides the FAA regulations.

    • Login to reply the answers
  • 9 years ago

    it depends on what kind of small plane you are talkin about. yes the government radars can get that sensitive as to pick up a hummingbird but we rarely ever set it to such an intense frequency. if its a model airplane your pretty safe unless its wingspan is over 8 ft then its pushing it and if you are talking about a single engine water hopper then you are definitely out of luck that will be picked up. and mexicans cannot fly across without being tracked over a radar because a plane big enough to carry a human being is bigger than enough to track on radar.

    you can take my word for it i work in the air defense sector in the military :)

    • Login to reply the answers
  • 9 years ago

    Ground clutter still makes low flying aircraft invisible to radar.

    Source(s): Electronics tech.
    • Login to reply the answers
Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.