FAA is investigating YouTube video of a drone firing a handgun
FAA is investigating YouTube video of a drone firing a handgunA mechanical engineering student from Connecticut has attracted the attention of the Federal Aviation Administration, and not in a good way. 18-year-old Austin Haughwout had a viral hit on his hands earlier this month when he uploaded a YouTube video called “Flying Gun,” which depicts a custom-built drone aircraft with a standard handgun mounted on the front section. Not only does it fly with all that added weight, it can fire without spinning out of control. FAA officials are reportedly concerned, and an investigation is underway.
The FAA has only recently waded into the murky issue of drone use in the US with a set of draft rules released several months ago. The rules cover requirements for commercial operation of drones, and are seen by many as highly restrictive. Drone operators would need to pass a licensing test every two years and keep drones under 500 feet. Additionally, the vehicle would need to be in eyesight at all times, which would make delivery services like Amazon’s proposed Prime Air impossible.
Haughwout is currently a student at Central Connecticut State University, and according to the family, the weaponized drone is just one of many engineering experiments the young man is working on. The 14-second video shows the drone hovering and firing the gun four times. After each discharge the drone compensates for the recoil and resets for another shot. The four widely spaced propellers probably help it remain stable.
So why is the FAA involved? Local law enforcement contacted by media outlets has said they do not believe Haughwout has broken any laws. The video was filmed on the Haughwout family’s property in Connecticut, and both handguns and drones are perfectly legal. Attaching a handgun to a drone, while probably very much inadvisable, is probably also a violation of the spirit of the law. The FAA has rules that prohibit releasing anything from an unapproved aircraft, which could be construed to include bullets.
The FAA has said it will work with law enforcement to make sure no criminal statutes were broken, but this is in addition to its own investigation of possible violations of federal aviation laws. The FAA’s statement on the investigation says it is looking into an armed drone operating in “a Connecticut park.” It’s unclear if this is a mistake on the part of the FAA, or if someone is alleging that Haughwout flew his handgun drone in public. If that’s the case, there will almost certainly be some legal ramifications.
Even if the drone was flown with a gun in a public park, it’s not clear the FAA would really get involved. Back in February, Federal Aviation Administration official Mark Bury told a gathering of state attorneys general that the FAA doesn’t have a role in monitoring the use of weapons on drones. “From [the FAA’s] perspective, if installation of a weapon, camera, whatever … if safe operation is not implicated, we don’t really have an interest,” Bury said. Basically, it’s complicated and the potential legal battle could get messy.
Even if Haughwout’s flying gun isn’t illegal, it’s sure to make folks nervous (that’s probably why the FAA is taking note). The coming robot apocalypse can be concerning, but those of us who support our weaponized flying overlords have nothing to fear.