FAA: Weaponized Drones Are Illegal


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The cost of consumer drones has come down considerably in the past few years, and some owners have fancied the idea of outfitting their unmanned vehicles with weapons. Some recent videos have surfaced showing people doing just that. Well, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is here to remind everyone that, no, you can’t equip a drone with weapons. It’s highly illegal, and the FAA is authorized to slap people with hefty fines. 

For several years, the proliferation of drone aircraft proceeded with very little regulation. The federal government slammed on the brakes when businesses started using drones at a time when there were no rules in place to ensure unmanned vehicles didn’t interfere with air traffic. Now, drones over a certain size and those used in business require a license. There are also restrictions about where you can fly drones, and of course, you’re not allowed to turn drones into flying weapons. 

Just recently, a company called ThrowFlame made headlines with its $1,500 “TF-19 Wasp” flamethrower attachment for drones. It works with most unmanned aircraft with a payload capacity of five pounds or more. Most of that weight is fuel — one gallon gets you 100 seconds of burning time. The TF-19 Wasp can bathe targets up to 25 feet away in fire. ThrowFlame insists this isn’t a weapon. 

The FAA has issued an official warning to the Ohio-based company. According to the FAA, any civilian operating a droneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce with “guns, bombs, fireworks, flamethrowers, and other dangerous items” is subject to a fine of up to $25,000. ThrowFlame insists that flamethrowers are regulated as tools in the US, so they can’t be weapons. That’s reminiscent of the claims Elon Musk made in 2018 when The Boring Company sold 20,000 flamethrowers for $500 each. Of course, the company later changed the name to “Not a Flamethrower” just to be safe. 

This is certainly more of a gray area than some past drone experiments. In 2015, the FAA investigated an online video that showed a drone firing a handgun. Following the investigation, the agency issued a warning but decided against fines. 

ThrowFlame, which also sells handheld flamethrowers, seems defiant in the face of potential fines. The TF-19 Wasp remains for sale on the company’s site, and there are plenty of videos demonstrating its use. The FAA might call that “evidence.” This disagreement could be headed for court.

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FAA threatens $25,000 fine for weaponizing drones – gpgmail


It’s perfectly natural for a red-blooded American to, once they have procured their first real drone, experiment with attaching a flame thrower to it. But it turns out that this harmless hobby is frowned upon by the biggest buzzkills in the world… the feds.

Yes, the FAA has gone and published a notice that drones and weapons are “A Dangerous Mix.” Well, that’s arguable. But they’re the authority here, so we have to hear them out.

“Perhaps you’ve seen online photos and videos of drones with attached guns, bombs, fireworks, flamethrowers, and other dangerous items. Do not consider attaching any items such as these to a drone because operating a drone with such an item may result in significant harm to a person and to your bank account.”

They’re not joking around with the fines, either. You could be hit with one as big as $25,000 for violating the FAA rules. Especially if you put your attack drone on YouTube.

That’s the ThrowFlame TF-19, by the way. gpgmail in no way recommends or endorses this extremely awesome device.

Of course, you may consider yourself an exception — perhaps you are a defense contractor working on hunter-killers, or a filmmaker who has to simulate a nightmare drone-dominated future. Or maybe you just promise to be extra careful.

If so, you can apply to the FAA through the proper channels to receive authorization for your drone-weaponizing operation. Of course, as with all other victimless crimes, if no one sees it, did a crime really occur? The FAA would no doubt say yes, absolutely, no question. So yeah, probably you shouldn’t do that.


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FAA Allows Hobbyist Drone Pilots to Get Automated Airspace Approvals


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Hobbyist drone flyers must abide by a large and sometimes confusing set of rules about where they can and can’t fly. Applications like Airmap and Kittyhawk have become indispensable tools for planning legal flight paths. However, flying near airports and many other types of infrastructure has required a cumbersome process of notification by telephone or manual requests for approval — until now. As of this week, the FAA has opened up the LAANC system (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) to recreational flyers. Currently, 591 US airports support LAANC, with more being added.

The need for extending the LAANC system to hobbyists was made more critical with the recent changes to FAA regulations, which now require active approval in cases that before only required notification. If nothing else, swamping air traffic controllers and airport personnel with phone calls every time someone wants to fly a droneSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce nearby isn’t an efficient use of anyone’s time.

Requesting Authorization Using LAANC

The process for getting authorization starts by creating a flight plan in an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk; both are free to recreational users, and both also offer a web interface in addition to mobile apps. If the flight plan includes flying near an airport that supports LAANC, you’ll be offered the option to request clearance when you finalize the flight.

You’ll need to supply the make, model, and weight of your drone, along with the altitude you’re planning, your name, and a phone number where the airport can send you a text message if they need to. Altitude does matter, as depending on where you want to fly, automated approval may only be available at lower altitudes than the maximum 400 feet.

Once you've submitted all your information you'll receive an automated response via text message

Once you’ve submitted all your information you’ll receive an automated response via text message

Being a bit skeptical after a lot of previous promises of this type of capability, I decided to try it for myself. I created a simple flight plan near San Francisco International Airport (SFO) in Airmap on the web. The first time I submitted it was rejected as I hadn’t realized I needed to add a phone number. Once I added that, the request was approved nearly instantaneously. I picked SFO because our smaller, local airports show that they don’t yet have an automated approval system in place.

A Note About Drone Flight Planning

Using a map that shows airspace restrictions is an essential part of responsible drone flying. Even if you know you’re aren’t near an airport, power plant, or other critical infrastructure, an app like Airmap or Kittyhawk will alert you to Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) caused by emergency responders, fires, police actions, or other transient events. Personally, I’ve found Airmap supports detailed maps not just here in the US, but when I’ve been flying my drone overseas as well.

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