Logan, an audio engineer by day, was quick to remedy that. At the start of the year, he launched the Twitter handle @HelicoptersofDC as a clearinghouse for all things chopper-related. Now more than 7,700 followers strong, the account uses publicly available data to identify the sources of all that buzzing, often tweeting out photos of the choppers.
Logan isn’t out to shame the many rotors. HelicoptersofDC is decidedly pro-helo, selling helicopter schwag, hosting helicopter-identification contests and generally getting residents hyped about hueys.
“It’s created a community excited to discuss helicopters,” Logan said. “It’s changed the way we think about helicopters. . . . It’s not, ‘Oh man, there it is again,’ but ‘Oh, I've got to get a photo of that.’ ”
It’s not always an easy sell. Helicopters and Washingtonians generally get along as well as hawks and bunny rabbits.
Legislators — including Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) — have sought to create a centralized system to track helicopter noise and asked the Government Accountability Office to study the problem. A GAO spokesman said that report is due in January.
Residents have claimed the abundance of helicopters is a source of nightmares and compared living beneath rotors to living in a war zone.
In one high-profile incident this year, helicopters have also proved aggressive.
In June, following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, low-flying military helicopters piloted by the D.C. Army National Guard were part of a show of force against protesters. The incident is under investigation and the Guard has been sued by a protester who claims she was injured.
But D.C. choppers don’t appear to be going anywhere. Helicopters are nearly as native to the nation’s capital as go-go and half-smokes.
“I do think we could compete as being the most-helicoptered city,” said Gray Brooks, an amateur helicopter enthusiast. “It's a pretty tight concentration.”
Brooks, a D.C. resident and employee of the General Services Administration, started the website Helicopters of DC in 2019 during the government shutdown. (Logan said Brooks was “not at all offended that I stole his name,” and Brooks said he considers Logan a collaborator.) Like its Twitter counterpart, the site identifies aircraft, explaining which agencies are behind which birds and their missions.
Brooks noted D.C. has lots of agencies with lots of missions, and there appear to be more helicopters than, say, 20 years ago before the Sept. 11 attacks.
Like other cities, D.C. has police helicopters and medevacs — although no news media circling above, as the region has the most restricted airspace in the country, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
But D.C. also has the Marine Corps HMX-1 squadron flying the president around and the 1st Helicopter Squadron out of Andrews Air Force Base providing transport to high-ranking officials while permanently on call for national security incidents.
There’s also the occasional mystery craft that proves enticing to chopper enthusiasts — as in October, when a low-flying twin-engine Bell 412 flew a grid pattern over D.C. at about 80 mph. It turned out to be a National Nuclear Security Administration helicopter mapping background radiation ahead of January’s inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden.
“There's a young-child-excited-by-things element,” Brooks said. “Helicopters beat the air into submission.”
Alan Henney, a longtime chronicler of police chatter who often beats traditional media to crime stories on Twitter, said HelicoptersofDC “ties it all together.” The account provides a basic service every citizen is interested in: When someone looks up and sees something in the sky, they want to know what it is and why it’s there.
“Nowadays, especially in the corporate media, they have been concentrating predominantly on the big stories, and rightfully so,” he said. Still: “People worry when they hear helicopters over their head.”
Logan has more plans for HelicoptersofDC, including a podcast and a computer program that can automatically identify an aircraft from a photo. He also has a lot of helicopter data, but isn’t sure he wants to plunge deeply enough into data science to track trends on chopper usage in the city.
Tracking trends could be important, he said, but it might not be as fun.
“I'm not sure whether the role of this tool is going to be investigative or cathartic,” he said.