About that Drone that Crashed at the White House…

January 27th, 2015 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

With my photography hobby, I’ve been interested in the amazingly stable video that small quadcopters can now provide. You might have heard about the drone which crashed on the White House lawn in the last couple of days.

Well, according to Nick Gillespie at Reason.com, it was a drunk government employee who couldn’t control his toy who was responsible.

So, since the government can’t control it’s own employees’ use of the things, the President says we therefore need the public’s use of them to be regulated.

Actually, I do think there need to be regulations and maybe even specific laws governing their use. Maybe owners should take a training class to get some sort of nominal certification, non-certified use would lead to fines, and the owner’s name and contact information should be on the things.

I don’t really know, maybe these are bad ideas. But unchecked irresponsible use could end up being bad for all users.


46 Responses to “About that Drone that Crashed at the White House…”

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  1. ossqss says:

    It started last month. Here is the cliffnotes version.

    http://www.cnbc.com/id/102256805

  2. jimc says:

    Sounds extremely dangerous. The butterfly effect you know. If a butterfly flapping its wings in China can cause a hurricane, I donít even want to think about what four propellers can do.
    (Actually, the attached contact information and a simple/sensible rule book seems adequate.)

  3. “since the government canít control itís own employeesí use of the things”

    And this is different from the private sector how?

    “Maybe owners should take a training class to get some sort of nominal certification, non-certified use would lead to fines, and the ownerís name and contact information should be on the things.”

    Do you feel this way about all things that can propel things at deadly speeds?

    “But unchecked irresponsible use could end up being bad for all users.”

    Unchecked irresponsible use hasn’t ended up being bad for gun users. Unless you count the dead ones.

    • Roy Spencer says:

      Don’t know why you are confusing this issue with a right specifically guaranteed by the Constitution, Scott. Sounds like maybe some sort of ideological problem.

      • Lewis says:

        Yes, we need more rules. We don’t have enough yet.

        That aside, what rules do we have governing small airplanes and helicopters, even model rockets.

        Small, miniature airplanes have wingspans up to 6′ – perhaps larger. Do those need a license from government or just good sense?

        The same for drones, which are just 4 propeller helicopters. They’re toys, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be dangerous. Should they be registered? Bah. What of bicycles? They’re dangerous too. So are a lot of things.

        Let the buyer take responsibility. Otherwise you ask government to control every aspect of your life.

        • JohnKl says:

          “Let the buyer take responsibility. Otherwise you ask government to control every aspect of your life.”

          Agreed.

          Have a great day!

          • Again, I have a second amendment right to regulate the militia well. Since we regulate other devices that can propel objects at deadly or dangerous speeds, why do we not get to regulate the ones that the constitution expressly says we should?

            Have a lousy day.

        • David Ap says:

          “Let the buyer take responsibility.”

          What to do about buyers who specifically use a machine — gun or drone — for nefarious purposes? Just shrug our shoulders and say, too bad, Newtown, those were beautiful kids, too bad you didn’t take responsibility for them.

          (Or, for that matter, our government’s drone kills of innocents in the Middle East?)

          • JohnKl says:

            Last I checked slaughtering children with or without a gun remains illegal. The Newtown killer died. If either the death-penaly or life in prison didn’t deter Lanza from murdering school children, what makes you think a gun regulation would? He stole a legally acquired gun. How exactly would you hold Lanza’s corpse responsible for the children’s deaths? Why do you seem to think our government’s drone kills will be limited to innocents in the Middle East? Are there not innocents elsewhere?

            Have a great day!

          • David Ap says:

            “If either the death-penaly or life in prison didnít deter Lanza from murdering school children, what makes you think a gun regulation would?”

            Because it has worked in other places, such as Australia and Scotland. No assault rifles (no one needs them), rigorous background checks, especially at gun shows, licensing…. Someone like Adam Landza has no business being around guns.

            You seem content to just say, oh well Newtowners, too bad your kids had to die, my needs come first.

          • JohnKl says:

            “Because it has worked in other places, such as Australia and Scotland. ”

            They had little violence before the regulations. They’ve historically been monocultures ethnically. The situation rapidly changes now in the UK. We’ll see how long the lull continues.

            “No assault rifles (no one needs them), rigorous background checks, especially at gun shows, licensingÖ. ”

            You don’t think the law enforcement and/or the police need what you label as assault rifles? Many people apparently believe with reason they do need them. Just ask the Korean shop owner who readily utilized them when attacked during the LA riots. As to background checks, and other such regulations, they’re selectively enforced and obviously hasn’t solved the problem. Btw, since the current administration had no problem waving them so Mexican gangs and likely terrorists as well could obtain weapons the through ‘FAST AND FURIOUS” what ‘s the point of the regulations? Who’s guns do they seek to regulate? It certainly isn’t everyone’s. Will David an others honestly answer such questions? Time will tell.

            Have a great day!

          • JohnKl says:

            My statement should have referred to Korean shop owners.

          • David says:

            Assault rifles are built to kill as many people as fast as possible. No one outside the military needs one, or should have one.

          • David says:

            “Just ask the Korean shop owner who readily utilized them when attacked during the LA riots.”

            Just ask the 6-year olds killed at Newtown if anyone needs assault rifles.

          • Massimo PORZIO says:

            Hi JohnKl,
            I’m by your side.
            Here in Italy we have a very restrictive law on guns, but it doesn’t mean that we have less killers than in the US.

            Outlaws well know where to buy their AK47s.
            What is missing in Italy is a true punishment for the killers.

            Just a yesterday night news, reported that the killer of a nurse in Rome, who was sentenced in 2012 is now free. He just have to return home before 8:00 PM and sign everyday at the police headquarter.

            Have a nice day.

            Massimo

          • Aaron S says:

            I own guns and agree they need more regulation. For example my friend bought multiple guns at a show and a week later his 2 ARs were stolen w his 9mm glok(almost certainly an inside job), and i think every owner needs a safe and training. However the days of regulation are about over. Already any machine shop can manufacture a gun even an AR. They are a simple design. 3D printers will in a decade or so be capable of printing guns. Then what?

          • JohnKl says:

            David asks:

            “Just ask the 6-year olds killed at Newtown if anyone needs assault rifles.”

            They’re dead, personally I don’t seek psychics or spiritualists. However, my guess would be they wish their school guards and security personnel at the school had been properly armed to protect them. You know the very people you claimed shouldn’t have semi-automatic (wrongly labeled assault) guns. They didn’t have them at Newtown. We know the results.

            Have a great day!

          • JohnKl says:

            Massimo, David and others,

            Massimo stated:

            “Outlaws well know where to buy their AK47s.
            What is missing in Italy is a true punishment for the killers.”

            Exactly! AK47’s can be had for ~$350 a pop throughout the globe, number over 100 million world wide and travel freely apparently across U.S. borders. A comparable AR15 (or even better AR10 (original superior design)) will run at least ~$1500, but a $20 gas tube for the AR gas system costs much less than ~$150 to replace the AK’s gas piston set-up.

            Btw, you may not know in the U.S. Bill O’Reilly reported their exists at least 22 large land facilities operated by Islamic groups in the U.S. that train military jihadists with the very same kind of weaponry. Funny, the laws David likes haven’t done squat to stop them. Moreover, since the U.S. government has already provided REAL military arms to Al Queda and Isis known to exist in the Syrian opposition forces (Gee! where did Isis get all those weapons and sophisticated machinery to conquer Iraq? Such a mystery (laugh). Benghazi simply proved a bellweather) why would anyone actually concerned with the Rights of Americans seek greater gun control with such SELECTIVE ENFORCEMENT currently being the norm?

            It truly seems fascinating, that so many on the left seek to deny American’s access to arms guaranteed by the 1st Ammendment to the Constitution (and no I’m not just talking hunting rifles) while simultaneously apparently running them to groups that have either attacked the U.S. before or ally themselves with them.

            Perhaps, I’m asking too many questions in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.

            Have a great day!

      • Your logic on regulation of drones seems quite practical and wise. I would like to see it applied to the militia I have a duty to regulate well.

        If you don’t see this, then you are the one with the ideological problem.

  4. JohnKl says:

    Roy states:

    “Actually, I do think there need to be regulations and maybe even specific laws governing their use. Maybe owners should take a training class to get some sort of nominal certification, non-certified use would lead to fines, and the ownerís name and contact information should be on the things.”

    Why does every human activity seem to need government regulation and licensing other than feeding the system more cash. Automobile licensing and regulation has existed for years yet driving remains a fairly high risk activity in terms of accident fatalities, injuries, etc. Since the public money has been used to construct roadways etc. many will clamor for more resources (however obtained) to continue financing public use. Personally, I’m unaware of any benefit bestowed by the masses to provide for air space to fly a drone. Regulations defining airspace boundaries, scientifically sound safety regulations etc. may have value. Why one needs a license to fly one remains to me quite a mystery. Does anyone posit that drone experts (who or whatever they may be) should oversee licensing and permitting model airplanes? How extensive should the rules be? Should we have separate rules for rubber-band wound propellor kids toys vs. say toy helicopters? Just asking?

    Have a great day!

  5. David Ap says:

    Roy wrote:
    “So, since the government canít control itís own employeesí use of the things….”

    Why do you want government to control what its employees can do in their own time? That hardly seems like a conservative position…..

  6. David Ap says:

    “Actually, I do think there need to be regulations and maybe even specific laws governing their use. Maybe owners should take a training class to get some sort of nominal certification, non-certified use would lead to fines, and the ownerís name and contact information should be on the things.”

    That isn’t going to stop the threat of drones being used at the White House, at a crowded parking lot, or over your and my home.

    • JohnKl says:

      “That isnít going to stop the threat of drones being used at the White House..”

      Or by the White House! Since when have laws or regulations stopped them?

      Have a great day!

      • David Ap says:

        You missed the entire point of my comment.

        • JohnKl says:

          No, I simply address it. If you suggest that there simply doesn’t exist any laws or regulations that will result in a risk free world or prevent all dangerous human action I agree. Nor in my opinion, does it make sense to wrap the country in the bondage of poorly understood and enforced regulations to prevent all possible harm. If on the other hand you’re utopian enough to believe you have some political bandaid to address the problems, I’m quite sure you’ll prove disastrously wrong.

          Have a great day!

  7. Worried says:

    Would finding a stranger in the back yard with a video camera be different from finding a drone with a camera hovering there?

  8. KevinK says:

    Roy (I don’t see the need to address you as Dr. Spencer for this post as you seem to be stating the opinion of a normal citizen);

    Have you noticed a buzzing sound outside around your house recently ? I’ve been practicing flying my “bird” around your place to see if I can find the “secret recipe” for climate science….

    Ha ha, just kidding, I would never be that disrespectful of a neighbor’s privacy.

    You make good points, respect others and most of them will respect you. The Bill of Rights was all about the government respecting their employers (the citizens). Of course lately they seem to have forgotten that bit of the equation.

    It sure does seem that no matter how many laws we have to “prevent” irresponsible behavior (by a few) it still happens.

    DUI, Guns, etc. etc. we have lots and lots of laws, and some people still ignore them. More laws don’t seem to solve anything most of the time. Enforcing the laws does seem to make a difference (i.e. NYC’s reduced murder rate after enforcing “quality of life” laws in the 1990’s).

    I think having “no fly” zones for drones makes sense, I hereby declare all of my property and any surrounding airspace with a clear view of my property “off limits” to drone operators, enforceable with my own “anti-aircraft” methods (a good rifle with a scope).

    I also think clear identification and accountability (like car license plates) also makes sense. But even with those rules for automobiles folks still drive around with fake license plates and can’t be tracked. It seems perfectly fair that I am mandated to purchase automobile insurance to protect others on the public “right of way” in case I make a mistake, but what has always irked me is the additional surcharge (in New York State anyway) to cover the “uninsured drivers”. So, not only do I pay my way, but I get the privilege of paying some other deadbeats way as well.

    So, I think some laws about drone usage make sense, but only if they can actually be enforced, which is doubtful. Maybe we need yet another Federal Agency: the “Federal Unmanned Craft Kinetic Energy Department”…..

    Thoughtful post, thank you, KevinK.

    • Massimo PORZIO says:

      Hi KevinK.
      “but what has always irked me is the additional surcharge (in New York State anyway) to cover the ďuninsured driversĒ. So, not only do I pay my way, but I get the privilege of paying some other deadbeats way as well.”

      Uh… So you inherited our silly laws about it.
      Here in Italy we pay the European highest prices for insure our cars because of the increasing of the ďuninsured driversĒ.
      Our laws are sillier than your indeed, because we insure the cars instead of the drivers, so if a burglar does an accident with my stolen car, my insurance covers the damages… And I get the insurance fees increased of course!

      It seems we are more privileged than you! ūüôā

      Have a nice day.

      Massimo

  9. Thanks, Dr. Spencer.
    Safe drone use requires the brain to be engaged. But, more centralized power needs to be exercised?
    How are radio-controlled model airplanes regulated?

  10. KevinK says:

    OK, funny cartoon needed here, imagine a “person with ill intent” (formerly known as a “terrorist”) waiting in like at the motor vehicle department to register their drone and get a “license plate” for it before they fill it with explosives and fly it into a picnic.

    What would the questions be;

    1) Have you ever envisioned hurting people with your drone ?

    2) What training have you had to avoid flying your drone into places where it is not wanted ?

    3) Have you now, or ever supported the communist party, or Exxon ? Admit it, you got some free water glasses with that fill-up back in 1968 didn’t you….

    4) If your drone happens to kill some people what cell phone number can we reach you at ?

    5) Can we have your current e-mail address to update you on our constantly changing regulations ? We are sure you will want to be fully complaint at all times.

    I personally like the approach of some folks out west that wanted to issue hunting permits for drones, those drones are wily suckers, but their sense of smell is awful so you don’t need to cover yourself with “human scent” blocking perfumes like the deer hunters do.

    I say OPEN SEASON ON DRONES is the answer, until they become an endangered species, then we simply make all of the Continental USA a wildlife refuge to “Save the Drones (TMed) by WWF”.

    Cheers, KevinK.

  11. Personal drones are in a legal class known as model aircraft. It appears to me that at least some items in the Academy of Model Aeronautics safety code are FAA regulations that apply to model aircraft.

    Some items from the AMA safety code:

    * No commercial use, which means including no paid or professional aerial surveillance, photography, or delivery of goods

    * Maintain line of sight from pilot (or pilot’s spotter who can control the aircraft) to the aircraft. The pilot (or pilot’s spotter) is responsible to see the aircraft and to avoid collisions.

    * Maximum altitude of 400 feet above the ground, minimum distance from an airport 5 miles

    * Total weight limit of 55 pounds (exception for a special certification, and it must not be human-carrying)

    * If the aircraft has autopilot including return to launch site if control is lost, active electronic stabilization, or a first person view camera, then the total weight limit is 16 pounds and there is a speed limit of 70 MPH.

    * Model aircraft flown outdoors must have contact information including name and mailing address, or AMA member number. (I suspect that when it comes to rubber band powered toys weighing around/under 1/8 pound, the authorities aren’t concerned much, unless one of these lands on the White House or its grounds or the like.)

    * The model aircraft must not launch or propel rockets or projectiles.

    * The model aircraft must not be flown over people other than its pilot/crew, or otherwise where loss of power can result in the aircraft hitting people other than pilot/crew.

    * Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or while otherwise impaired

    * Do not fly model aircraft where there are prohibitions against doing so

    =======================

    The New York Times article linked from the Reason article cited by Spencer says that there is already a law against flying personal drones in Washington DC.

  12. KevinK says:

    Donald wrote;

    “The New York Times article linked from the Reason article cited by Spencer says that there is already a law against flying personal drones in Washington DC.”

    Exactly my point, IT WAS ALREADY AGAINST THE LAW TO DO THAT, and yet it still happened. So maybe even more laws are the solution, or perhaps enforcing fewer laws more effectively might work better ?

    Prohibition was the “LAW” and we know (well most of us) how well that worked out.

    Cheers, KevinK.

    • Massimo PORZIO says:

      I agree, you shouldn’t do as the politicians did here in Italy.

      Few years ago, since on an highway there has been a big car accident due to an idiot which was far over the speed limit, instead of punish exemplarily the driver, they reduced the speed limit.

      Anyways, even here in Italy the politicians are thinking a “new law” to regulate the drones, but for what I heard it should be thought not for safety issues, but just to create a “new job opportunity”.

      ūüôĀ

      Have a nice day.

      Massimo

  13. Roy Spencer says:

    My comments about laws and regulations related to drones weren’t meant to imply that it will prevent people from flying them into the White House grounds if they really want to, any more than gun laws and regulations keep people from being murdered.

    But we also don’t sell guns to children in toy stores.

    I’m thinking more about helping to prevent stupid behavior, rather than preventing crimes.

    I follow the comments at a quadcopter forum, and I remember a commercial airline pilot buying one of these things. He used it right out of the box and, after crashing it about 3 times, decided he needed to read the training instructions.

    Four pounds traveling at 40 mph and hitting someone in the head accidentally is what I’m the most afraid of. When this starts happening, the government is going to step in with a heavy hand.

    • KevinK says:

      Roy,

      “Four pounds traveling at 40 mph and hitting someone in the head accidentally is what Iím the most afraid of. When this starts happening, the government is going to step in with a heavy hand.”

      Well, I agree with your concern, but THIS will start happening more often AND the goverment WILL step in with a heavy hand. Heck it’s the only hand that they have….

      So the long term question is: will drones go the way of lawn darts (those ridiculously heavy pointed projectiles) that were sold openly in toy stores so you could intentionally THROW them at each other… Disclaimer; I survived many family picnics with those things around, I have not yet earned my Darwin Award (Thank You Know Who).

      Probably…

      But once they outlaw drones only outlaws will have drones…

      I still say “Shoot On Sight if Threatened” is a better policy. Heck it worked for Grizzly Bears a hundred years ago ?

      And how many folks will put their expensive toy in harm’s way if it might get greeted with some buckshot ?

      Cheers, KevinK.

    • KevinK says:

      Also, Roy wrote;

      “Iím thinking more about helping to prevent stupid behavior”

      Yeah, hundreds of years of laws have really helped with that….

      For example, it is against the law to trespass on private Electric Utility Company Property to steal energized copper wire, BUT some intelligence challenged folks continue to do it almost every day…

      For example, it is against the law to exceed the speed limit on public roads, BUT…..

      For example, what the heck, there are too many examples to waste time listing them all here…

      I think the Darwin Awards is the best example of universal laws that where “passed” a long time ago without any consent from a governmental “authority”…

      LAWS, what are they good for ???

      Cheers, KevinK.

  14. David L. Hagen says:

    Cute – but FATAL
    Beware seriously harming or killing people with drones!
    Deadly RC Helicopter Accident in Switzerland

    A 41 year old male was found with heavy injuries to head and arms by a walker in Mauensee Luzern Switzerland. The helicopter of type Gaui Formula X7 was found next to the body and collected as evidence by the police.

  15. Hahah yes it is must to have the laws to regulate the public from flying drones they are potential threat to security.

  16. slimething says:

    I live in the country. We don’t care for city slickers imposing their stupidity on us; that’s why we moved out of the city.

    There are already laws on the books affecting RC planes that the FAA is applying to sUAS (drones). 400 ft ceiling, LOS etc.

    It is already highly regulated. In fact, it is illegal to use a drone for commercial use without special exemption, even you paying a 12 year old to bring his toy copter to take pictures of your property. Is it also illegal to pay them to mow your lawn now?

    Keep big city problems and resolutions within the city limits.

    35 year RC flyer (several drones now too)

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