Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (2024)

You may hear the chopping of a helicopter’s propeller before you see the aircraft. When you look up, you might wonder, “why is a helicopter circling my area?

You may get nervous, but is your fear justified? What should you do if it circles your neighborhood for an uncomfortably long time? Is everything okay in your neighborhood?

Why is there a helicopter circling around my neighborhood right now? There could be several reasons a helicopter is circling your area, but the most likely reason is that it’s performing a search and rescue mission. Other reasons could be conducting a police search, surveying damage from a natural disaster, or providing medical transport.

How to find out why a helicopter is circling? If you’re concerned about the helicopter activity, you can always contact your local law enforcement or fire department to inquire about the situation.

This article will answer everything you need to know about why a helicopter is circling your neighborhood right now and what you should do when it happens.

Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (1)

Table of Contents

  • How To Find Out Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area?
    • Search and Rescue Operations
    • Law Enforcement Activities
    • To Take Photographs or Video Footage
    • Construction Site Monitoring
    • Drop Supplies or Equipment
  • Why Do Helicopters Circle Around Neighborhoods?
    • To Survey an Area
    • Checking Rooftops for Burglars
    • Testing a New Helicopter (or Pilot)
    • Checking Large, Fenced Areas
    • For Weather Reporting or Tracking Storm Systems
    • For Oil Rig Inspections
  • Type of Helicopters That Could Circle Your Area
    • Police
    • Military
    • Civilian
  • What Do Police Helicopters Do?
    • Searching for Missing Persons
    • Monitoring Traffic
    • Chasing Suspects
    • Conducting Surveillance
    • Providing Aerial Support During Emergencies and Natural Disasters
  • Why Is a Police Helicopter Circling My Area?
  • How to Find Out Why a Helicopter Is Flying Over Your House?
  • FAQs
    • Why Do Helicopters Circle Before Landing?
    • What Do I Do When a Helicopter is Circling?
    • What Does a Green Light Mean on a Police Helicopter?
    • Why Do Police Helicopters Circle At Night?
  • Conclusion

How To Find Out Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area?

Helicopters can cause uncomfortable amounts of noise as well as a lot of anxiety. Not every helicopter is circling because of a crime.

Sometimes, the helicopter maybe with the police or other emergency services, and they respond to a call.

In other cases, the helicopter may be part of a news team covering a story in the area. There are also times when a helicopter is circling over your neighborhood to save fuel.

It may help to learn who is flying these helicopters and why they might be circling your area to ease these concerns.

Here is a short list of reasons why a helicopter may be circling your neighborhood:

Search and Rescue Operations

If an accident occurs, a helicopter can locate and rescue missing persons.

It is more efficient to track them from the sky than on foot or in cars, and many search and rescue helicopters have thermal imaging.

Law Enforcement Activities

The police use helicopters to monitor traffic and help catch criminals on the run, among other tasks.

If you see a police helicopter on patrol, it is best not to panic and head inside if you can. This article will detail more functions of police helicopters later.

To Take Photographs or Video Footage

Sometimes, the law and the media need a bird’s-eye view of a situation. News stations and law enforcement use helicopters to film video footage from thousands of feet above.

Construction Site Monitoring

If you live near a construction site and wonder, “why is there a helicopter over me?” there is probably no cause for alarm.

Construction is dangerous work, and it can be hard to see every part of a building in progress at once.

Civilian helicopters monitor the safety of construction sites all the time.

Drop Supplies or Equipment

Military and police helicopters may drop extra supplies or equipment to units on the ground -especially if a disaster left people stranded or injured.

Medical or emergency helicopters need to balance their weight with the supplies they need. It may help to check the news to see if something has happened.

Why Do Helicopters Circle Around Neighborhoods?

The next question that may come to your mind is – why do helicopters circle instead of hover or land?

Here are seven reasons a helicopter might circle over your street.

To Use Less Power & Fuel

You may wonder why helicopters circle at all. The answer is simpler than you think. One of the biggest reasons helicopters circle instead of hover is that it takes more fuel to hover than to circle.

So, if they aren’t clear for landing, helicopter pilots prefer to circle the area rather than hover.

To Survey an Area

Buildings and trees often block the view for helicopters. Circling lets them survey an area for the best view possible.

Checking Rooftops for Burglars

Police helicopters can stop a crime in progress by catching burglars on the roof of your house, behind bushes, or hiding elsewhere on your property.

Not only can they spot the suspect, but circling over the area also helps track them.

Testing a New Helicopter (or Pilot)

Any kind of helicopter can fly over residential areas for a practice flight. A local service may test a new helicopter, or a new pilot may need experience in the sky.

This form of helicopter practice is very common in areas near military bases.

Checking Large, Fenced Areas

Helicopters are good for monitoring large, fenced areas because foot traffic is not feasible. This includes ranches, nature preserves, and other large, fenced areas that can’t be walked.

For Weather Reporting or Tracking Storm Systems

Newscasters use helicopters to get a bird’s-eye view of storms from a distance. Many aircraft have radar to alert them to oncoming bad weather; news stations take advantage of this.

The helicopter will let the station know if a tornado is coming sooner than other forms of storm chasing. The same radar allows helicopters to avoid bad storms.

For Oil Rig Inspections

Since many oil rigs are at sea, helicopters are one of the few ways to inspect an oil rig. Similarly, the Coast Guard and other water-based occupations use helicopters to access areas other vehicles cannot.

Type of Helicopters That Could Circle Your Area

Three major types of helicopters fly above residences: police, military, and civilian. Each of these has different reasons for flying over populated areas.


Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (2)

Police helicopters are almost always on duty, whether patrolling from the sky, catching criminals, monitoring traffic, or training.

You may see stripes or other markings indicating that the helicopter in your neighborhood is a police helicopter. If a helicopter is flying lower than usual, it is probably a police helicopter.


Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (3)

Military helicopters are uncommon sights in the United States. They are usually used to deliver troops and supplies to soldiers and bases.

Military helicopters are also sometimes used for medical evacuation or to launch attacks from above.

Unless you live near a military base, it is unlikely that you will see a military helicopter in your neighborhood. If you do, they probably mean no harm and are practicing.


Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (4)

This type of helicopter covers everything that is not related to law enforcement or the army, including media and construction work.

Other industries such as oil, healthcare, firefighting, the Coast Guard, and agriculture also use helicopters. They may even be carrying celebrities.

The next time you wonder, “why is a police helicopter circling my area?” try downloading an app called Citizen.

The app can tell you what kind of helicopter is flying over your neighborhood. It will also give you other information about potential emergencies.

Regardless of the type of helicopter over your head, the best thing to do is remain calm and get inside if need be.

What Do Police Helicopters Do?

If you have identified a police helicopter circling in your neighborhood, it could be doing many different tasks. Law enforcement uses helicopters for various tasks, including:

Searching for Missing Persons

If you live in a rural area, a helicopter may be above your neighborhood looking for a missing person.

They can travel around 150 mph, making it easy to cover large areas. Police helicopters often have thermal imaging to detect someone’s body heat.

Using a helicopter is more efficient than trying to track someone on foot.

Monitoring Traffic

Helicopters make it very easy for law enforcement to monitor traffic. Not only do the police need to watch traffic for accidents, but if a suspect tries to flee, the police can track their vehicle and follow their every turn. They can do this during the day and night.

Chasing Suspects

Police helicopters are astonishingly effective at catching suspects in the act, especially at night. Rooftops and bits of shrubbery are easy to see from above.

The aerial view allows law enforcement helicopters to track criminals and alert other cops to their location. If a police helicopter has thermal imaging, the suspect will have nowhere to hide.

Conducting Surveillance

The police may use a helicopter to monitor public events, traffic, and criminal activity. Other times, they are on patrol, exactly like a police car would be.

Do not panic if this is the case. Again, surveillance can happen at any time of day.

Providing Aerial Support During Emergencies and Natural Disasters

Many different kinds of emergency services use helicopters to fly supplies down to those in need.

They can also provide search and rescue services, especially if they are equipped with thermal imaging.

You should expect more helicopters if there has been a disaster.

Why Is a Police Helicopter Circling My Area?

There could be many reasons for a police helicopter circling your area. The most benign of them is training.

It is more likely, however, that the police are patrolling from the air, monitoring traffic, or trying to catch a suspect.

Please do not ask any police workers at ground level, “why is there a helicopter over me?” They may not answer; it is usually better to head inside and let them work.

How to Find Out Why a Helicopter Is Flying Over Your House?

While most helicopter activity is nothing to be concerned about if you see a helicopter circling your area and it seems to be doing so repeatedly or for an extended period of time, it may be worth investigating further.

You can find out why a helicopter is flying over your house by contacting the local police or fire department to see if they know of any operations happening in the area that might explain the activity.


Why Do Helicopters Circle Before Landing?

Helicopters circle before landing for many reasons. One of them is to check the wind. Another is to make sure there is adequate space for the helicopter to land. Another still is that buildings, trees, etc., can block their view, and circling to get the best view is more. They may also signal to people below to make space and communicate their intentions with other airborne vehicles using lights.

What Do I Do When a Helicopter is Circling?

Suppose you know a place with helicopter monitoring nearby (such as a public event, a nature preserve, or the ocean) or a military base near you. In that case, you can probably carry on with your outdoor activities. If you recognize the helicopter as tied to the media, go inside unless you wish to be on television. The best thing you can do when a police helicopter is circling is to go inside. Whatever the police are doing, you shouldn’t interfere.

What Does a Green Light Mean on a Police Helicopter?

The green and red lights on a helicopter tell the people below where and how the helicopter is landing and alert other aircraft to their presence. If you see a green light, the vehicle is moving from left to right; if you see a red light, it is going from right to left. These signals are largely designed to avoid collisions with other aircraft but can also be seen from the ground.

Why Do Police Helicopters Circle At Night?

If you see a police helicopter circling at night, they are probably on a mission. There may be a criminal on the loose. The police may also be searching for a missing person. Although some police helicopters might be training at night, there is a higher probability of something going wrong.


If you see a helicopter circling over your area, your best move is to go indoors – especially if you can identify it as a police helicopter.

The police may be trying to catch a criminal, but they also use helicopters to monitor traffic, deliver supplies, and search for missing persons. If you see a police helicopter at a major public event, there is no need to worry.

And if you just moved to an area with a heavy helicopter presence, the question “why is there a helicopter over me?” will become white noise.

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Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (5)

Robert Bacon

Robert Bacon is a car nerd and automotive lover who has dedicated his life to understanding the inner workings of vehicles. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering and has spent years working as a mechanic and engineer for some of the world’s top car companies. In his spare time, he enjoys writing about cars on this blog and tinkering with his 2016 Toyota Mirai in his garage.

Why Is a Helicopter Circling My Area? How To Find Out? (2024)


What does it mean when a helicopter is circling your neighborhood? ›

Police & news are the two most common helicopters that may be seen circling over your house. Something on the ground in your vicinity is of interest to the crew and the helicopter is using its camera to film or search the area. Circling allows the incident to stay in view of the crew at all times.

Why do helicopters circle around neighborhoods at night? ›

Police helicopters often circle places at night. For example, they are looking for a missing child or a suspect who disappeared into a neighborhood. News helicopters also may circle an accident scene to get video for the nightly news. Well the short answer is because that's what the pilot is doing.

Why would a police helicopter be circling at night? ›

At night the police helicopter will normally only fly if there is an ongoing incident that requires air support. These incidents could be anything from a missing person search, a police pursuit to a medical evacuation.

Why do helicopters hover in one spot? ›

In fact, the rotor blades of the helicopter are really moving wings. The difference is that the whole airplane has to move forward in order to get lift, whereas the helicopter needs the propeller to fly in the air. This is what enables a helicopter to go straight up or down or hover over one spot.

How can I find out what helicopter is flying overhead? ›

Visit RadarBox.com, then click the "Filters", option on the right sidebar. Locate the "Aircraft Class" filter option and click on that. After that, a list of aircraft types/classes will be displayed, including helicopters.

What does it mean when a police helicopter circles? ›

If the police helicopter is flying overhead in circles, they are working some sort of mission. The spotlight, called a Night Sun, is just one of many tools the helicopter has to complete a mission. Depending on the mission, the helicopter may or may not use the Night Sun.

What does it mean when a helicopter is flashing red? ›

The system (status lights) should be a flashing red light (or lights), visible to the pilot from any direction of approach and on any landing heading. The aeronautical meaning of a flashing red light is either “do not land, aerodrome not available for landing” or “move clear of landing area”.

Is it normal for helicopters to fly at night? ›

Yes, it is completely normal for helicopters to fly at night. There's not really any difference (other than it being dark) than daylight flying. Military, law enforcement, medical and news helicopters fly all the time at night.

Do helicopters move at night? ›

HELICOPTERS. Helicopters can be flown at night and they are often used in search and rescue missions after dark, as well as for purposes of patrolling the streets by the police. Helicopters are generally not as stable as aeroplanes, but with the necessary training, a helicopter pilot can safely fly a helicopter.

Can helicopters fly at night without lights? ›

While anticollision lights are required for night visual flight rules (VFR) flights, they may be turned off any time they create a distraction for the pilot.

What can police helicopters detect? ›

The infrared camera is used to detect thermal heat given off by an object. Cold objects appear dark and as an object gets hotter the color seen on the camera goes from gray to white. During the day the infrared camera can be used really well for looking for hot bodies in wooded areas.

What happens if a helicopter hovers for 12 hours? ›

No. A helicopter that "stays stationary" does so in relation to the atmosphere around it and the atmosphere pretty much follows the ground underneath it. The atmosphere does not stand still while the earth rotates. If it did, we would experience constant winds on the order of 1000 km/h.

Why do helicopters fly over my house at night? ›

There could be a variety of reasons: search and rescue mission, law enforcement searching for a criminal or following a car, aerial fire fighting, air ambulance transporting a patient to a hospital, military helicopter on a training mission, helicopter mounting something somewhere such as an antenna, news helicopter at ...

How long can a helicopter stay in one spot? ›

If it is in ground effect it can hover longer as fuel consumption is reduced. “How long can a helicopter hover in the same spot?” As long as it has fuel and a conscious competent pilot, and as long as the wind doesn't get too nasty.

What is the app that shows helicopters circling? ›

Flightradar24 | Flight Tracker on the App Store.

Is helicopter pilot left or right? ›

Interestingly, the tradition of seating captains on the left-hand side does not apply to helicopters. According to Smithsonian Magazine, sitting on the right-hand side is common (but not universal) practice as it allows the pilot in command to keep their right hand on the aircraft's sensitive cyclic control stick.

Can you track helicopters above you? ›

Aircraft visible on Flightradar24 (within MLAT, radar, or Flarm coverage) In regions with MLAT, radar, or Flarm coverage most of the air traffic is tracked and visible independent of aircraft type. That includes propeller aircraft, helicopters and gliders.

What does it mean when a helicopter has a green light on? ›

The position lights help to recognize in which direction an aircraft is flying in the dark. The green position light is on the front right in the direction of flight and the red position light is on the front left in the direction of flight.

Why do people crouch under helicopters? ›

It is good practice to crouch while exiting the helicopter if the rotors are turning. Many helicopter rotor systems can dip well below 6 feet from the ground level, which can potentially contact a person or object on the ground.

What does yellow helicopter flying low mean? ›

Yellow helicopters, with 'Electricity' written in bold, black letters on the side, are often used by electricity distributors to check for any repair or maintenance works. This particular helicopter was spotted flying low over an electricity pylon in Osney Mead.

What do the colors on a helicopter mean? ›

The colors were used to designate the various battalions (or “regiments” depending on who you talk to). Green was the 227th Aviation Battalion, light blue was the 228th, dark blue was the 229th, and red was the 2/20 Armed Rocket Artillery Battalion.

What Colour is an emergency helicopter? ›

Although at Devon Air Ambulance we use a red helicopter to deliver urgent critical care to patients on scene, red helicopters can be used for all sorts of different services around the world, often to do with lifesaving, such as coast guards or mountain rescue.

What does it mean when a helicopter is flashing white? ›

An aeronautical light beacon is a visual NAVAID displaying flashes of white and/or colored light to indicate the location of an airport, a heliport, a landmark, a certain point of a Federal airway in mountainous terrain, or an obstruction.

Why would a helicopter be following me? ›

Your property may not be of interest, just in the vicinity. Criminal activity, searching for missing persons, video evidence gathering, or providing overwatch for police operations are just some of the most common reasons why a police helicopter may be circling over your property.

Why do I hear helicopters every day? ›

The most probable explanation is that you live near some VFR helicopter route. In areas of intense air traffic those routes are assigned to organize and keep helicopters at safe distance from airplanes.

Do search and rescue helicopters fly at night? ›

Our pilots and aircrew are highly trained in both overwater and mountain rescue including helicopter rappel, hoist and high altitude mountain landings. We can conduct day or night operations and have night vision goggle capability.

Can helicopters fly anywhere they want? ›

Since helicopters do not need a runway for landing, where are they allowed to touch down other than an airport? Helicopters may land anywhere as long as permission has been granted by the private landowner or the controlling agency of any public land.

Can helicopters see people on the ground? ›

The helicopter can assist ground units as a platform from which to observe, track, and illuminate people or places on the ground.

Do helicopters fall straight down? ›

Actually, helicopters have a built-in mechanical control called the collective pitch lever that allows them to descend slowly and land even if the engine dies.

Is it illegal to shine a flashlight at a helicopter? ›

Shining a light or other device at an aircraft is a serious offense that can result in a criminal conviction on one's record. If you or someone you know have been charged with this offense, it is crucial that you speak with a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney right away.

Why can't helicopters fly in rain? ›

Rain, snow, and hail can all make flying a helicopter more dangerous and complicated. Generally, precipitation does not make flying harder, but it can impede your navigation abilities. Heavy precipitation in flight can make it hard to see upcoming obstacles, for example.

Why would a helicopter fly at night with no lights? ›

The bright lights heat up and actually make the image quality of the infra red system worse. So helicopters flying night time police operations will usually operate with bright lights turned off.

Can police drones see in your house? ›

Can Police Drones See In Your House At Night? Yes, police drones can see in your house at night. Police drones have infrared cameras and thermal imaging capabilities that allow them to see through walls and windows. They are able to do this through a process called Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR).

What is a helicopter surveillance? ›

Aerial surveillance is the gathering of surveillance, usually visual imagery or video, from an airborne vehicle—such as an unmanned aerial vehicle, helicopter, or spy plane. Military surveillance aircraft use a range of sensors (e.g. radar) to monitor the battlefield.

How close can a helicopter fly to my house? ›

In that case, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

How late can a helicopter fly? ›

In general, the standard private and professional licenses restrict pilots to daytime flights only. To fly at night, generally from approximately one hour after sunset to one hour before sunrise, pilots must obtain night flight certification under the VFR or IFR rules.

How far can a helicopter take you? ›

Most helicopters are designed to fly between 200-450 miles. The average piston-engine helicopters have a range of around 200-350 miles, while the faster, gas-turbine powered helicopters can fly to around 300-450 miles.

Why do helicopters shake the house? ›

And the sound of a helicopter rotor is very low frequency, high amplitude sound. So each time a rotor blade passes your direction, you experience a loud sound, or air pressure change. This pressure causes surfaces like your roof, walls, windows, and even eardrums, to vibrate.

Do helicopter pilots go home every night? ›

In terms of actual days, some publications say most short-haul pilots will either travel home every day if possible or work for five days and then spend three or four days at home. Long-haul pilots are said to spend more time away from home, although they do get 10 to 15 days off per month to see their families.

Can you walk under a helicopter? ›

Never stand directly below the helicopter. Standing too close can lead to you getting hurt, or covered in dust, dirt and debris that the rotors' force can kick up.

Can a helicopter fly nose up? ›

Moving the collective up requires a slight aft movement of the cyclic to direct all of the increased power into lift and maintain the airspeed. Remember, a helicopter can climb with the nose down and descend with the nose up. Helicopter attitude changes mainly reflect acceleration or deceleration, not climb or descent.

Can a helicopter land almost straight down? ›

The next potential problem is that of frequently needing to take off and land vertically or nearly so. Helicopters can do this, but it isn't particularly easy, and it isn't recommended unless absolutely necessary. In the admittedly unlikely event of an engine failure, it would be very difficult to land safely.

What does it mean when a helicopter flies low? ›

Military helicopters fly low when training for wartime operations. Flying low allows helicopters to reduce the noise they make and fly under the scan of enemy radar. Flying low is dangerous and takes lots of training and practice. It is this practice that has them flying low in your area.

How long can a helicopter hover in the same spot? ›

The easy answer is, “You can hover as long as you want, wherever you want, as long as you have the power required and fuel to keep the engines going.” The more complete answer is a little more nuanced.

Why does a helicopter hover left side low? ›

Helicopters usually hover left side low due to the tail rotor thrust being counteracted by the main rotor tilt.

Why are so many helicopters flying over my house? ›

Well, the most common reason why helicopters might be flying over your house is either because your residential property is over a military flight path , or law enforcement has a good reason to do so.

Why do police helicopters fly low? ›

The FAA notes helicopters may be operated at a lower altitude “if the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface.” Kidane said having low-flying helicopters could cause issues with residents' sleep.

What is the green light under a helicopter? ›

The position lights help to recognize in which direction an aircraft is flying in the dark. The green position light is on the front right in the direction of flight and the red position light is on the front left in the direction of flight. In addition, there is a white position light at the rear of the helicopter.

How close to a house can a helicopter land? ›

In general, helicopters can land anywhere they can safely fit. However, local & regional aviation regulations can prevent a helicopter from landing at a pilot's desired location, especially in urban areas. In an emergency, a helicopter is allowed to land anywhere to ensure the safety of its occupants.

How high do you repel from a helicopter? ›

Rappels are organized into three heights: low, below 75 feet; medium, 75 to 150 feet; and high, above 150 feet. Air Assault School is a rigorous 10-day course.

How high can a helicopter fly legally? ›

There is no legal minimum altitude for flying a helicopter. However, pilots must ensure that their flight does not create a hazard to persons or properties on the ground. Other types of aircraft must maintain an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle when flying over congested areas.

What are the flashing white lights on helicopter? ›

An aeronautical light beacon is a visual NAVAID displaying flashes of white and/or colored light to indicate the location of an airport, a heliport, a landmark, a certain point of a Federal airway in mountainous terrain, or an obstruction. The light used may be a rotating beacon or one or more flashing lights.


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