A Growing Trend Of Ultralight Aircraft Used To Smuggle Drugs


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A Growing Trend Of Ultralight Aircraft Used To Smuggle Drugs

By Jim Douglas

December 21, 2010 - Two U.S. citizens are in federal custody after they were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their alleged involvement in a marijuana smuggling operation that used ultralight aircraft to move drugs across the border. 

Jon Youngs, 40, a foreman at a ranch near Hereford, Arizona, and Marta Williamson, 52, of Tucson, have been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana. 

On February 6, agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Border Patrol arrested two people and seized about 200 pounds of marijuana that was smuggled into the United States via an ultralight aircraft.

ICE HSI special agents were notified, took custody of the suspects for federal prosecution, and opened an investigation into the criminal smuggling activity. During the course of the investigation, agents identified these suspects as the coordinators who facilitated the smuggling of marijuana from Sierra Vista, Arizona to Tucson. ICE HSI agents arrested Youngs and Williamson Thursday after the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona obtained an indictment against the pair at a grand jury hearing Wednesday.  

An indictment is simply the method by which a person is charged with criminal activity and raises no inference of guilt. An individual is presumed innocent until competent evidence is presented to a jury that establishes guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. 

Drug smugglers are finding it harder and harder to smuggle drugs across the border in automobiles, which historically was the method used to ship drugs. The ultralight plane represents a new trend in across the border smuggling and it is a favorite means by smugglers due to its ability to fly close to the ground there by avoiding radar, its maneuverability and it?s an inexpensive means to transport drugs.  

Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine Operation Center in Riverside, California, reported that from October 1, 2009, through April 15, 2010, there were 193 suspected ultralight incursions and 135 confirmed incursions along the U.S.-Mexico border. Although the ultralight aircraft is not designed to carry any cargo, smugglers are smuggling between 200 and 400 pound of drugs per flight.


In September of this year the House of Representatives and the Senate passed the ?Ultralight Smuggling Prevention Act? which was amended to the Tariff Act of 1930. This was a result of the ultralight aircraft by Mexico?s transnational criminal organizations (TCOs) to transport narcotics across remote areas of the border into the United States.


The United States FAA's definition of an ultralight is significantly different from that in most other countries and can lead to some confusion when discussing the topic. The governing regulation in the United States is FAR 103 Ultralight Vehicles, which specifies a powered "ultralight" as a single seat vehicle of less than 5 US gallons (19 L) fuel capacity, empty weight of less than 254 pounds (115 kg), a top speed of 55 knots (102 km/h or 64 mph), and a maximum stall speed not exceeding 24 knots (45 km/h or 27.6 mph).  

Restrictions include flying only during daylight hours and over unpopulated areas. Unpowered "ultralights" (hang gliders, paragliders, etc.) are limited to a weight of 155 lb (70 kg) with extra weight allowed for amphibious landing gear and ballistic parachute systems.

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