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DIY Drones Pose Problems for US Airspace Security

Written by on Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

Having the world’s strongest military is nice and all, but the one major downside to innovating new weapons and technology is that you open up the gate for everybody else to follow. The first innovator has to be the one to pour billions of dollar into research, fumble with failed prototypes, and experiment with new engineering techniques. Once an inventor has done that, everybody else can basically copy the idea.

That may sound bitter, but that’s not where I’m going with this. That’s just how technology works — one guy has a great idea, and everybody else can make the same thing. The atomic bomb is a good example. Once the rest of the world realized that such a bomb was even possible, it wasn’t long before scientists in other nations figured out how the US built the atomic bomb and engineered one of their own. Similarly, government analysts believe that a shot down F-117 Nighthawk was acquired by Russia and China, which they used to reverse engineer stealth technology.

Normally, military technology is prohibitively elaborate. A well-funded government might be able to steal technology and replicate it, but it’s not like a guy working in a shed can construct a nuclear bomb or an aircraft capable of achieving Mach 3. Even something relatively simple, such as firearms, can be tough to make manufacture on your own.

Somewhat ironically, drones are becoming more and more accessible — almost dangerously so. Drones represent the latest and greatest in military aviation, but you don’t have to have weapon’s-grade uranium or $20 million to build one. All you really need is a few plane parts, an engine, and the type of remote control technology that you can order off of Amazon. If you wanted to, you could go build your own fully functional drone for less than the price of a used car.

That’s simultaneously dangerous and liberating. On the one hand, that accessibility invites ingenuity and exploration. On the other, giving civilians access to military-grade remote technology can offer criminals and enemies of the state a perfect opportunity to cause mayhem. After buy tadalafil all, why should you bother hijacking a plane when you can just build your own, fill it with explosives, and remotely pilot it into the side of a building?

This probably sounds like I’m sensationalizing the problem to make a better story, but that’s not really the case. Homemade drones are already a $100 million problem.

Mexican drug cartels have taken to building ultralight drones, which fly over the border into the US for a rendezvous. Last year, Customs and Border Protection detected 223 drone flights from Mexico to the US — and that’s just the ones they know about. The US has been forced to scramble jets and put Black Hawk helicopters into the air to take down these planes, which are loaded to their maximum capacity with illegal drugs.

What makes the situation even trickier is that the US can’t just shoot down these aircraft, even if we are reasonably certain that they are unmanned. At best, all we can do is follow the drones and attempt to intercept them when they land.

You see the problem? It isn’t as though the US can really do anything to stop the proliferation of drone technology. Many drones are being built outside of America’s sphere of influence, and even here on native soil there isn’t a lot that the government can do about it. It isn’t as though the government can put a ban on scrap metal, light internal combustion engines, and unregistered airfoils. These drones are kind of like Molotov cocktails — having gasoline, a bottle, a rag, and a lighter are all perfectly legal. It’s only when you put them all together and throw it into a building that the government can suddenly do something about it.

So, how do you stop people from building these potentially dangerous aircraft? In this case, it looks like the US has its hands tied. They’ve opened Pandora’s Box and the knowledge of drone technology is already out there. At this point, all we can really do is prepare ourselves for the inevitable, occasional unwelcome drone in US airspace.


If you want advice about the world of military aviation, there’s no better people to turn to than men and women who have sat in the cockpit and flown some of the world’s most advanced aircraft. With over 50 current and ex-warfighters on call, Strike Fighter Consulting Inc. can give you access to up-to-date, first-hand technical and tactical expertise.

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