- June 10, 2016 at 3:04 am #28386
Man who built gun drone, flamethrower drone argues FAA can’t regulate him
Austin Haughwout racked up 4+ million views on YouTube, and drew FAA’s ire.
by Cyrus Farivar – Jun 9, 2016 6:25am MST
This is a still from the December 2015 flamethrower drone video.
New landmark legal case could provide guidance in ambiguous area of US law.
The outcome of a new drone lawsuit out of Connecticutturns on what seems to be a simple question: does the Federal Aviation Administration have the authority to regulate consumer drones? More specifically, can the FAA come after a student who rigged up a gun to a drone and fired it in his backyard, with no one else around?
The FAA clearly thinks that it does and can. But some drone enthusiasts disagree and believe that the FAA has exceeded its regulatory power–at least for now.
On July 6, FAA lawyers will face off in a New Haven courtroom against attorneys representing a Connecticut student who produced two provocative drone-related videos, one involving a handgun mounted on a drone and another involving a flamethrower.
“It creates a burden on hobbyists that Congress did not want to create.”
“At the time the FAA organic statute was created, drones were the stuff of science fiction,” Mario Cerame, of the Randazza Legal Group, wrote in his recent opening briefdefending the student, Austin Haughwout, and his father, Bret Haughwout.”The statute did not contemplate their existence. Rather, the statute was directed at airplanes, helicopters, and blimps, and the resources on the ground to support them.”
Haughwout is also involved in a related lawsuit in local court trying to get him reinstated at Central Connecticut State University, which expelled him in the wake of his videos.
Just a fun home movie
The first of the two videos, entitled simply “Flying Gun,” depicts a drone armed with some type of handgun that then fires a few shots for approximately 15 seconds into what appears to be a forested area.
By early November 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration sent the two Haughwouts an administrative subpoena seeking a substantial amount of records, including purchase records and an accounting of what monies, if any, were gained from the “Flying Gun” YouTube video.
The elder Haughwout declined the government’s efforts, telling the FAA in an e-mail that because the agency had not alleged a particular violation, then he was under no obligation to comply. The FAA has not accused either man of a crime but merely seeks to acquire further information about their drone-related activities.
Within weeks, Austin Haughwout published his second video, dubbed “Roasting the Holiday Turkey.” It shows a drone with a flamethrower attached, firing at a turkey roasting on a spit.
At the time, the videos got a lot of attention–a combined 4 million views on YouTube–and a great deal of coverage in international media.
The FAA again served the Haughwouts, and again, they did not respond. Finally, on February 11, 2016, the FAA took them to court, asking a federal judge to enforce the subpoena. Within weeks, US District Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer asked for further briefing in Huerta v. Haughwout–so the government and the Haughwouts faced off.
As John W. Larson, an Assistant United States Attorney, wrote: The respondents’ use of a UAS falls within the scope of the FAA’s authority as set forth in the plain language of the above statutory and regulatory scheme. Specifically, the UAS shown in the respondents’ videos is an “aircraft” because, even though it is unmanned, it is a contrivance/device that is invented, used, or designed to fly in the air.
But Haughwout attorney Cerame fired back in his own response. The present case is one of first impression–no Article III Court has had occasion to examine the scope of the term “aircraft” as used in the FAA organic statute or 14 C.F.R. Â§ 1.1. The statutory definition of aircraft is ambiguous, and the FAA’s construction is patently absurd. Sure, Â§40102(a)(6) and 14 C.F.R. Â§1.1 looks simple enough. A thing, any thing, that flies.
The verb fly, as in “fly in the air,” is not so plain, though. There is fly in the sense of airborne locomotion, like how birds fly from one place to another. But . . . flags also fly, when attached to a pole, don’t they? We also say that plastic bags or bits of paper carried on the air fly about–isn’t that a motif in American Beauty? And don’t we say that bullets or knives or any airborn dangerous object–don’t they fly through the air too, especially when there are lots of them? Baseballs can go pretty high–we call it a “fly ball.” Okay.
For the sake of the argument, let’s imagine the “airborne locomotion” definition is the only one. That leaves . . . Frisbees. Clay pigeons. Paper airplanes. A pole for pole vaulting. A good pair of basketball sneakers. A rubber band. Spitballs. Anything juggled. A birthday balloon. Hand tossed pizza dough. Ceramic plates during a lovers’ spat. Genetically engineered fruit flies, bacteria, pollen. Alright, alright.
Man may pay $10,000 fine for using remote-controlled flying wing.
Case law on this point is thin, but seemingly definitive, at least for now. The FAA did prevail in a 2014 decision(Huerta v. Pirker) by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), finding that drones meet the legal definition of aircraft.But as Cerame noted in his court filings, no actual court has ruled definitively on the issue. Cerame declined comment to Ars.
An aircraft is an aircraft is an aircraft?
However, the drone law experts that Ars spoke with felt that Cerame’s argument was a bit of a stretch.
“Technology has moved forward quickly, and policy is still trying to catch up,” Lisa Ellman, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells, told Ars by e-mail.
“There is a clear argument to be made that drones are so new and technologically different from traditional manned aircraft that they should be regulated differently. But, right now that’s not the case and legally [unmanned aerial systems] have been deemed to fall under the definition of ‘aircraft.’ The NTSB ruled that way in the Pirker case. So I would be surprised if the respondent prevails on this point.”
Similarly, a lawyer who represents a pilot whose drone was shot down over Kentucky noted that this case is still in the early phases–after all, neither Haughwout has been charged with a crime.
“I think the court will say that it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that this is an aircraft, so answer the subpoena so we can figure this out,”
James Mackler, of Frost Brown Todd, told Ars. “The court needs to determine that these are aircraft and they need to be treated as aircraft and governed as aircraft.”
Indeed, Gregory McNeal, a law professor at Pepperdine University, also pointed out that this case is still in the “investigatory phase,” which means it is hard for a respondent to resist a subpoena.
“The FAA is merely trying to find out how the drone was used so it can determine if there was a violation of the law,” he e-mailed, noting that he believed the government would prevail.
Either way, Ellman also noted that even though the law may not specifically forbid an armed drone, it’s probably still illegal to arm one.
“On the broader question of the legality of arming a drone, the law prohibits recklessly endangering the public when flying an aircraft,” she added. “Regulations also prohibit dropping an object from an aircraft in a manner that creates a hazard to person or property.
There may be no federal law that explicitly says, ‘it is unlawful to arm a UAS and shoot bullets from it.’ But there’s a strong argument that shooting bullets from a UAS would be considered illegal under one or more existing provisions that are designed to ensure safety.”
and in other news
Woman hatches scheme to get drone pilot in trouble, backfires when footage shows otherwise
June 8, 2016
A woman retrieves a fallen drone and creates an exaggerated story about being almost hit, before calling the police. Her story quickly fell apart after footage from the drone’s still-recording GoPro proved otherwise.
When it comes to consumer drones, the public perception is divided between those who think they are cool, and those who find them annoying, useless, invasive, or dangerous.
When the two groups meet, it’s not always a pretty picture. One drone recently captured the tension on video, after a woman swiped the crashed racer, unaware it was recording not only the heist but all her thoughts about drone usage. But that’s only one part of the story.
In the video above (via Bokeh), the pilot was flying a drone in a designated area of a park in Southern California, using an attached GoPro to send a first-person view to his goggles to safely fly the vehicle.
The drone in question is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the pilot said. We’ve heard plenty of drones-gone-horribly-wrong stories, thanks to untrained pilots who ruin it for everyone, but the pilot in question seems responsible enough.
When the drone lost signal, it landed on the ground – as it’s programmed to do. While the landing was ordinary, what happened next was anything but. A passerby grabs the drone and stuffs it under her shirt, in what looks like a theft. But the woman was unaware that the GoPro was still recording, and it captured not only the entire incident, but her elaborate scheme (warning: video contains strong language) that ended involving law enforcement.
You can watch the video to see the whole thing unfold, but here’s the gist: After the woman retrieved the drone, she called the police to say it had landed five feet from her. She had even recorded a video with a smartphone, saying the drone almost hit her and her dog. The GoPro video contradicts her claim as she’s making it, as it shows her nowhere near the drone when it landed. After the drone pilot caught her attempting to abscond with the drone beneath her clothing, the police got involved.
While the video audio is entertaining enough to rack up nearly half a million views in a few days, the footage captures some of the perceptions the public has about drone use. As Bokeh points out, the situation could have favored the woman’s story, had it not been for the GoPro evidence; the woman seemed more intent on giving drone owners a bad name than actually stealing it.
The woman expressed concern over the drone’s flight path being near where kids ride their bikes. According to the pilot, he had just let a few kids try on the first-person goggles, and was using the GoPro to ensure he wasn’t flying it unsafely. The woman also (mistakenly) said the drone was illegal.
While no charges were brought on either side, the pilot hopes the footage helps fight some of the stigma on drone use. “The next time you fly, take a moment to talk to the kid in the park or the person walking their dog,” he writes in the video. “Let them try on your goggles and explain to them how we fly responsibly and that they shouldn’t be afraid of FPV racing drones.”
Warning bad language
- June 10, 2016 at 4:09 am #28388
The FAA has more authority than the IRS. They will prevail.
- June 10, 2016 at 12:30 pm #28391goodyParticipant
- Posts: 18
- Comments: 74
- Overall: 92
Freedom is such a fragile commodity. It takes common sence and respect for others to have freedom. Sadly both of those atitudes are disappearing, I cringe at the FAA saying I cannot fly a drone on my property with out their blessing, I also fear the jugheads that abide in my zipcode. Fortunately most of those might not be able to afford one!
- June 11, 2016 at 12:46 pm #28402DaveInGAParticipant
- Posts: 6
- Comments: 44
- Overall: 50
While I’m not real hep on drones (annoying buzzing things), it’s plain as day to me that in the next serious war, the young men playing with these “toy” drones will be the ones creating, building and flying combat drones for our military. The privacy aspect is a difficult thing to assess. One that that occurs to me is if you’re doing and behaving like you should, why would you be concerned about a drone photographing and/or filming you?
- June 11, 2016 at 1:55 pm #28403
One word DaveinGA – “Privacy”
- June 11, 2016 at 6:19 pm #28407
goody;n7495 wrote: Freedom is such a fragile commodity. It takes common sence and respect for others to have freedom. Sadly both of those atitudes are disappearing, I cringe at the FAA saying I cannot fly a drone on my property with out their blessing, I also fear the jugheads that abide in my zipcode. Fortunately most of those might not be able to afford one!
If you, and people like you, were the only ones doing it I doubt the FAA would ever have involved themselves in the issue. I know for a fact they didn’t want to. Unfortunately, the easy acquisition of the drones seems to bring out the worst in people. When you had to build an RC airplane yourself from scratch with only a set of plans the idiots in society couldn’t be bothered. And the FAA ignored it because the enthusiasts investment was too large to risk getting into trouble. Now any one with more money than sense can buy one and endanger lives with it.
I make my living with this:
It’s bad enough that I have to contend with birds, Cessna 172’s, thunderstorms, and ice.
Drones and lasers need regulation because I want to keep coming home.
- June 16, 2016 at 2:35 pm #28480
Oldblinddog, have you had any encounters with drones or lasers while flying? I’d love to hear about it.
- June 16, 2016 at 4:11 pm #28482
Lasers no. Drones yes, but they were close to either the plane in front or the plane behind me. There are all sorts of “man made” hazards in the air. I once nearly (by 6 feet) hit a raft of balloons from some ground event while descending through 14,000 feet. There were about 50 balloons rafted together and I didn’t see them until it was too late to do anything.
There are plenty of natural hazards as well. I’ve been hit by lightning, hit birds, small hail, heavy rain, etc. I’ve even hit a bug at (once again) 14,000 feet. The bug hit the windshield directly in front of my face. I don’t know what kind it was but it was large. I saw it coming and ducked because I wasn’t sure what it was. What he was doing up there is anybody’s guess. There were no thunderstorms in the area that might have sucked him up.
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