A Cessna Caravan, like the one the NYPD uses to scout for nukes/take the mayor on vacation.
A Cessna Caravan, like the one the NYPD uses to scout for nukes/take the mayor on vacation.
Photo: Cessna

The New York Police Department, considered one of the most well-funded and heavily-equipped police forces in the world, apparently owns a $4 million spy plane that can detect nuclear bombs from the sky.


We’re learning this now mainly because the New York Post reported today that a congressman is demanding a probe into the NYPD using the spy plane as New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s personal charter plane.

The question isn’t whether the NYPD used the spy plane to fly De Blasio to and from Quebece—it totally did and the NYPD doesn’t deny that it uses any equipment it deems necessary for VIP transport. Instead, the debate is whether that’s okay.


The plane, the Post reports, was purchased with federal money to help the city detect nuclear threats. It was specifically designed for this purpose, with the Cessna being retrofitted for the mission:

The NYPD bought the Cessna [2]08 Caravan using a pair of 2014 federal grants totaling $6.8 million, according to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA. Of that, $4 million was spent on the single-prop turbo engine — while the remainder went to fancy gadgets used to detect radioactive materials, police said.

By the NYPD’s own omission, the city didn’t ask the Department of Homeland Security for approval to run the transport mission. “We didn’t ask for clearance, and I haven’t heard from them,” a spokesperson told the Post.

Of course, the most surprising part of all of this to most people would be that a local police department owns a nuke-detecting spy plane. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but the authorities think it’s a worthwhile investment for the port’s security.


As it stands, the port of New York is equipped with radiation detectors that can alert authorities if an incoming ship could be carrying a dirty bomb. The problem, though, is that nuclear bomb explosions are really, really big. By the time a ship makes it to the port, it’s already close enough to do catastrophic damage.

The idea behind the spy plane is to detect any ships potentially carrying nukes long before they reach the city, giving authorities much-needed time to stop any threats. The spy plane is capable of flying over ships up to 200 miles from the port, with the ability to stay in the air for up to six hours at a time and beam video from onboard infrared and HD cameras back to base.


It also has the ability, we learned recent, to fly mayors to Quebec should that be necessary. The NYPD just asks kindly that, should the mayor be scheduled to go out of town, you hold off any plans to sneak a nuke into the port until the plane returns.

Mack Hogan is Jalopnik's Weekend Editor, but you may know him from his role as CNBC's car critic or his brave (and maligned) takes on Twitter. Most people agree that you shouldn't listen to him.

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