Right now according to FlightRadar24 there is a Cessna C560 circling Washington DC.

enter image description here

It took off from Manassas Regional Airport and has been circling ever since. No other identification is listed.

Is there any other way to find out what this plane is doing and why it would be flying now?

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    $\begingroup$ from a journalist: twitter.com/josephfcox/status/1267661141519433728 I don't think any strict confirmation can be found, but such flights have been performed on most major cities these days. these aircraft are usually equipped with stingrays/IMSI catcher and similar communication surveillance equipment. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jun 2, 2020 at 5:52
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    $\begingroup$ FYI I opened a meta discussion about this question: aviation.meta.stackexchange.com/q/4105/1467 as much the subject interests me and I have followed it in my spare time, I question whether it can be considered on-topic here. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jun 2, 2020 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ Such a perfect circle... is this some autopilot mode? $\endgroup$
    – Brad
    Jun 3, 2020 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ It's possible global.adsbexchange.com might show more info for such a flight. $\endgroup$
    – Jeff B
    Jun 3, 2020 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure why it isn't shown but the tail number is N557PG. $\endgroup$ Jun 3, 2020 at 5:13

2 Answers 2


According to the Washington Post, an unidentified C560 was also seen circling protests in Baltimore in 2015. The FBI stated the aircraft were theirs and "specifically used to assist in providing high-altitude observation of potential criminal activity to enable rapid response by police officers on the ground."

FlightAware shows the callsign of the flight over DC tonight as JENA120, consistent with the callsigns used by FBI flights during the Baltimore flights.

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    $\begingroup$ The FBI isn't going to admit "We use them in order to track everyone's phone in the city, and gather all of their calls, text messages, and network connections without a warrant". $\endgroup$
    – john doe
    Jun 2, 2020 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ Baltimore/DC is the test area for a Wide Area Surveillance system similar to the military's "Gorgon Stare" project. The camera unit is built by a company called "Persistent Surveillance Systems". It records everything on the ground around the aircraft at a very high resolution using multiple cameras. Analysts can go back and zoom in on anything in the search area at a later date and track and follow individuals and their vehicles. $\endgroup$
    – mfarver
    Jun 2, 2020 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Darrel: you missed the part in john's comment about "without a warrant". Law enforcement likes Stingray and similar devices because it allows them to bypass that pesky issue of having to convince cellular phone companies to hand over the info they want. Instead, they just pretend to be the cellular network and get the info directly. There is some debate as to whether a warrant is required when using a Stingray, but for now the feds say they don't need one, and only in a few states has any law been passed making the requirement of a warrant explicit. $\endgroup$ Jun 2, 2020 at 16:57
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    $\begingroup$ @johndoe they don't need a circling plane for that. $\endgroup$
    – Aganju
    Jun 2, 2020 at 18:13
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    $\begingroup$ @johndoe An IMSI catcher is much more likely to be useful deployed near the surface than at 17,000 ft. And especially in Washington, D.C. of all places, it would be pretty trivial for the government to install as many of them as they want around the city out of view rather than flying them around on a jet. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:55

That plane was N557PG, a Cessna Citation V which is, according to the FAA, registered to National Aircraft Leasing Corp. That company is probably a front company for the FBI. Here's the track that N557PG flew on June 2, 2020. Compare to the image in your question:

N557PG track

Here's a link to see that track yourself. Note that it is probably only good until July 2, 2020 (about 30 days after June 2): https://tar1090.adsbexchange.com/?icao=a71ab8&lat=38.785&lon=-77.308&zoom=10.2&showTrace=2020-06-02

All the commercial trackers, like Flightradar 24, will hide aircraft identification info if requested (and paid) to. ADS-B Exchange is probably the first place anyone should check if they want to know what's flying around, because it has good coverage (maybe not as good as the commercial trackers) and never censors any information. Use https://tar1090.adsbexchange.com/.

After the 2015 Baltimore protests over the suspicious death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, it was found that the FBI had been flying more than a hundred aircraft over U.S. cities as part of a secret aerial surveillance program, where those aircraft were registered to front companies to hide their relationship to the FBI ("FBI behind mysterious surveillance aircraft over US cities" by Associated Press). National Aircraft Leasing Corp. was one of those front companies. You can see from the FAA registration database that there are 7 other companies, all fronts, with aircraft registered to the same address:

FAA registration database

We know the flights are at least collecting video (including thermal/IR) surveillance because the FBI released some of it:

(FBI archive link: https://vault.fbi.gov/protests-in-baltimore-maryland-2015/unedited-versions-of-video-surveillance-footage/1D3001Part1). We know they have the equipment to do other sorts of surveillance too.

FBI aerial surveillance image from protests in Baltimore, 2015


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