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 drone 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.
Drones now have flamethrowers and this probably won’t end well. pic.twitter.com/bWweydygOe
— PCMag (@PCMag) August 5, 2019
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.