Flamethrower Drone? The FAA Is Not Amused


For that hard-to-shop-for pyromaniac, ready for Christmas will be the TF-19 WASP Flamethrower drone attachment from a company called, what else, Throwflame. Introduced earlier this year for $1499, the TF-19 has drawn the attention of the FAA, which reminds would-be fire drone operators that weaponizing a drone is illegal. “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,” the FAA said in a policy statement earlier this month.

The agency said that operating a drone with a dangerous weapon attached is a violation of Section 363 of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 enacted in October 2018. Said the FAA: “Operators are subject to civil penalties up to $25,000 for each violation, unless the operator has received specific authorization from the Administrator of the FAA to conduct the operation.” Dangerous weapon, says the FAA, means “any item that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury.”

Ostensibly, the TF-19 WASP is designed for professional use in land clearing or backfiring for wild fire control. Given that it shoots a stream of flaming gasoline from a one-gallon tank for up to 100 seconds, the TF-19 appears to be easily up to the task, according to videos on the company’s website. Collateral damage could be an issue if the device were used to eradicate nests of stinging insects of the same name. If, for some reason, plain gasoline is too tame, the company also sells a napalm additive and can equip buyers with portable backpack flamethrowers as well. In case you’re wondering, flamethrowers appear to be legal in 48 states.

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  1. Remember when, in the aftermath of 9-11, Chicago’s mayor asserted that Skyhawks flying over the city comprised an unacceptable danger to the populace?

    Almost seems quaint now. Misguided, demogogic and purposeful. But quaint.

    Flash forward. Will we embrace a paradigm that regulates flight activity by use? Drones delivering insulin, good; drones delivering pizza, bad?

    With apologies to Capital One, “What’s in YOUR cargo compartment?”

    Inventing technology is easy. Allowing people to (mis)use it? Much more challenging.

  2. Would it be a violation of Section 363 if you used one of these INSIDE ? Cuz I think a couple of these would be pretty cool on ‘BattleBots.’ Maybe even miniature AIM-9X or other ordnance would make it so much more realistic. Maybe we could have two bots like Hypershock and Huge vs. The Wasp ?

    We’re now going from the sublime to the ridiculous.

  3. Weaponizing a drone IS illegal; but it’s NOT weaponizing if you use it responsibly and in a way that does no harm people or property. Unless it’s being used as a weapon or in a way that will do harm to people, then it’s NONE of the FAA’s business. Period.

  4. If you attach an automatic weapon to a drone, you have weaponized it, even if its magazine is empty and even if you never fire it. And as you say, weaponizing a drone is illegal. So attaching a flamethrower to a drone is illegal, regardless of whether you actually harm people or property. So it is the FAA’s business. Period.

    • No, NO, NO! it’s not a “weapon” unless you intend to use it as a weapon.
      You cannot say it’s a “weapon” unless you are using it AS A WEAPON.

      • You don’t have to argue about the meaning of “weapon.” The law the FAA cites defines “dangerous weapon” exactly as quoted in the article. Intent to use as a weapon isn’t a requirement. The fact that other devices might arguably meet the definition isn’t going to matter to the arresting officer or the prosecutor. Ultimately it will be up to a judge and jury to decide if one of these flamethrowers meets the definition, but unless you have a real, provable legitimate purpose for it, I wouldn’t want to roll those dice. A legitimate user can and should go through the hoops to get approval, not just for the flamethrower but for the non-hobby drone use.

        • There are no rules against a pilot carrying a weapon on their own aircraft.
          I don’t even know of any rules against firing it in the air (as long as they take care to prevent damage people and/or property).
          Heck, I have heard that there are even hog hunts from VTOL aircraft.
          Dangerous weapons on private VTOL aircraft are legal.
          It’s not “weaponizing” the aircraft.

  5. “Dangerous weapon, says the FAA, means ‘any item that is used for, or is readily capable of, causing death or serious bodily injury.’ ”

    So much for crop-spraying apparatus, eh? Same for fire-suppression spray apparatus. WMD, for sure.

    • I sniff a whole new subset of ambulance chasing lawyers forming at the periphery. “Your honor … my client was seriously injured by a box that fell off the Amazon drone.” Those with deep pockets … beware. And … speaking of things falling off a drone, … “wanna buy this beer that fell off a drone on the way to the ice fishing shanty?” Gangs of unscrupulous kids will be laying in wait for the things. Drone hijackers will be snatching drones and holding them for ransom until you pay them with bitcoin. With a bit of tinkering, inventive electronics types could ‘spoof’ a GPS position and you’d have all the packages coming to your neighborhood dropped off at your house. When an EMP hits, the sky will be raining drones. Farmers Insurance will have to make some new commercials because — well — they’ve ‘seen’ a thing or two. Finally, the “bad boys” will be sure and follow all the FAA rules without fail … wink, wink. The permutations are endless.

      Yeah … it’s a brave new world out there …

    • Eight flying Un-shielded high speed rotor blade assemblies can cause “death or serious bodily injury” a whole lot faster than fire. Just intentionally ramming the that large sized drone into a person is an effective “weapon” so an object only becomes a weaponized if you USE IT AS a weapon.