A remote-controlled quadcopter crashed into a tree on the White House lawn at 3 am on Monday morning.
Besides the fact that flying a model aircraft in Washington, D.C. is punishable by a fine or up to a year in prison, crashing a quadcopter into a tree at the White House earned its pilot some extra attention.
The pilot, who came forward and admitted to flying the “drone” – a DJI Phantom quadcopter – was questioned by Secret Service agents.
Turns out, he was a drunk employee of a government intelligence agency, perhaps meaning to fly the drone near somebody’s bedroom to collect information rather than crash into the White House lawn.
According to the New York Daily News:
A 2-foot-long “quadcopter” drone that crashed on White House grounds just after 3 a.m. Monday was operated by a reportedly intoxicated employee of a government intelligence agency.
The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, which collects and analyzes intelligence data from satellites, said Monday that one of its employees “self-reported” the incident Monday and acknowledged responsibility to the agency and to the Secret Service, which is investigating.
“The employee was off-duty and is not involved in work related to drones or unmanned aerial vehicles in any capacity,” agency spokesman Don Kerr said in a statement.
“The individual has been interviewed by Secret Service agents and been fully cooperative,” a Secret Service statement said. “Initial indications are that this incident occurred as a result of recreational use of the device.”
In the New York Times story on the incident, the writer played up the assassination potential of RC copters, and mentioned a “counterterrorism official” who spoke about how “the drones present a serious threat to the nation’s infrastructure, and that the DJI Phantom is the terrorist’s drone of choice.”
In fact, the “quadcopter crashes into White House tree” story happened just days after the Department of Homeland Security held a conference in Arlington, Virginia, where the Phantom was called “the terrorist’s drone of choice.”
But now because of the incident, the quadcopters will be set by its manufacturers to no longer be able to fly in the DC area, just as they are set to not be allowed to fly near airports.
According to the Verge:
Following the crash of one of its Phantom drones at the White House on Monday and a response from President Obama that more regulation of drones was needed, Chinese drone maker DJI will reportedly be disabling its units from flying over the DC area. According to the FAA, it was already against federal regulations to fly in that region, not to mention the fact that the pilot told the Secret Service he was drinking.
Something tells us that this was the plan all along. Hold a press conference about the security dangers of hobbyist remote controlled copters, then create a false security threat using one of these objects, then pressure the company into setting them so they won’t be allowed to be flown over the nation’s capital.
But a law is already in place forbidding remote controlled helicopters from being flown over the capital because 9/11 changed everything.
According to TIME.com:
In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Security Administration banned nearly all aviation—including model aviation—from what is known at the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ), a roughly 10-nautical mile area centered around Reagan National Airport in Virginia.
The FAA’s “Temporary Flight Restriction” (poorly-named in this instance because the one over Washington is permanent) lists the rules for the FRZ in painstaking detail, and apparently with its keyboard stuck on caps-lock:
“THE FOLLOWING OPERATIONS ARE NOT AUTHORIZED WITHIN THE DC FRZ: FLIGHT TRAINING, AEROBATIC FLIGHT, PRACTICE INSTRUMENT APPROACHES, GLIDER OPERATIONS, PARACHUTE OPERATIONS, ULTRA LIGHT, HANG GLIDING, BALLOON OPERATIONS, TETHERED BALLOONS, AGRICULTURE/CROP DUSTING, ANIMAL POPULATION CONTROL FLIGHT OPERATIONS, BANNER TOWING OPERATIONS, MAINTENANCE TEST FLIGHTS, MODEL AIRCRAFT OPERATIONS, MODEL ROCKETRY, FLOAT PLANE OPERATIONS, UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEMS (UAS) AND AIRCRAFT/HELICOPTERS OPERATING FROM A SHIP OR PRIVATE/CORPORATE YACHT.”
And if anybody should have known that was this government employee.
But what are the odds he will be criminally charged?