How Not To Get The FAA’s Attention

Many adults have stories from their childhood about getting away with something that was at best—unwise—or at worst—against the law. It could be a foolish driving stunt, making an illegal explosive or sneaking into a forbidden venue. At one time, people talked about such incidents only among their most trusted friends and confidants.

However, between the popularity of social media and the availability of smartphones with video capability, simply telling a select group of friends about a questionable exploit is no longer good enough. Some can’t resist the temptation to live stream to Facebook or post a video on YouTube.

In the UAS world, this isn’t a good idea, particularly when many laws remain ill-defined and important legal precedents have yet to be set, such as whether a drone is really an aircraft. Who wants to cross swords with the Federal Aviation Administration at a time when the agency is seeking to carve out its place in the UAS regulatory world?

Apparently the father-and-son team of Bret and Austin Haughwout from Clinton, Connecticut, sought to become pioneers in seeing just how far they could go with weaponizing drones. Not surprisingly, they attracted the FAA’s attention.

First they posted a YouTube video of a drone flying and firing a pistol. After it went viral, they followed up by posting another YouTube video showing a flame thrower-equipped drone roasting a turkey.

It can be argued that if you really wanted to shoot someone, mounting a handgun on a wobbly, noisy drone probably wouldn’t be the best method for getting the job done. And among the many fine recipes on record for cooking a turkey, using a small, drone-mounted flamethrower isn’t likely to make a Food Network Thanksgiving special any time soon.

Even though the Haughwouts claim their drone experiments occurred on private property and were recreational uses over which the FAA has no jurisdiction, the FAA and the U.S. attorney representing the agency beg to differ. They want information about whether the duo was operating UAS in a careless and reckless manner. The Haughwouts’ attorney says its none of the FAA’s business.

Thus, there’s a court battle brewing that could result in a precedent-setting decision in the realm of UAS law. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. To be clear, I’m not questioning anyone’s right to challenge the scope of the FAA’s UAS regulatory authority. I am questioning whether the Haughwouts are going about it the best way.