Is ‘flying gun’ UAS video a smoking gun?

HOWARD'S TOWER BLOG. A 14-second video, posted to YouTube by a user named Hogwit, is causing a great deal of controversy. Admittedly, it’s not as controversial as the Portland, Maine, diner owner yelling at a crying infant this week… but it’s a much-debated topic today, especially among aerospace professionals and hobbyists.

Is ‘flying gun’ UAS video a smoking gun?
Is ‘flying gun’ UAS video a smoking gun?

I know it is time to blog when… I find myself muttering about something while doing mundane tasks like washing dishes. This week, that something is: the “flying gun” video on YouTube. Not only is it garnering the attention of aerospace, law enforcement, homeland security, and various government professionals, but it’s also sticking in my craw.

A 14-second video, posted to YouTube by a user named Hogwit, is causing a great deal of controversy. Admittedly, it’s not as controversial as the Portland, Maine, diner owner yelling at a crying infant this week… but it’s a much-debated topic today, especially among aerospace professionals and hobbyists.

Austin Haughwout, an 18-year-old Central Connecticut State University engineering student, posted the video of his invention for a CCSU project, which he describes as a “homemade multirotor with a semiautomatic handgun mounted on it.”

In the video, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), also commonly known as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or drone, hovers a few feet above the ground in a wooded area; it is equipped with a handgun, which fires four times in succession.

Both the handgun and the UAS are “common” and readily available. “The length from the muzzle to the rear of the frame is over 26 [inches],” Haughwout describes on YouTube, while encouraging licensing requests by e-mail.

First, I do admit that I am happy that students are interested in aerospace engineering and advancing UAS. I also admit that it is no small feat: mounting a handgun to a small UAS, devising a mechanism for firing the airborne weapon on command, while the unmanned aircraft is flying or hovering; and enabling the aircraft to withstand and quickly recover the recoil of the gun.

Is ‘flying gun’ UAS video a smoking gun?Is ‘flying gun’ UAS video a smoking gun?

All that being said, however, this singular event – a 14-second home video – is likely to have considerable consequences. Officials at various U.S. government agencies, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). I shudder at the thought of others following suit, taking it upon themselves to craft, fly, and shoot weaponized UAS.

I also hate to think that the teen and his father are patting themselves on the back and celebrating the viral “flying gun” video (with more than 3 million views) and “invention.” Have they propelled unmanned technology forward, or set the UAS community and industry back? Unfortunate events like this irreparably harm public perception of unmanned aircraft, which continues to be a hotly debated topic. Will it further hinder the integration of unmanned aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS) in the U.S.? All eyes are on the FAA, waiting to see if officials issue penalties and new rules and regulations.

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