It was around sunset on Easter Sunday, April 16, when Brad Jones took his DJI Inspire 2 out for a flight in front of his home. Jones hoped, as he does on most nights, to capture some of the forested and hilly scenery in the environs of his hometown, Oliver Springs, Tennessee—about 30 miles west of Knoxville.
“I flew down over my aunt’s house, and I heard a gunshot within the first three to four minutes of flight,” Jones told Ars. “So I sped up and flew back towards my house.”
After a few more minutes, he flew back westward. He had just switched the drone’s camera mode from video to taking still photos in RAW format.
“I took two pictures, then I heard the gunshot, and all of a sudden my drone started spiraling down—I’m sitting there trying to keep it aloft and there was no lift.”
A nearby neighbor, who was also in the front of his own home, turned to Jones and exclaimed: “That hit it! You just got shot! It’s going to crash!”
Indeed, Jones watched as his beloved drone came plummeting straight down onto the property of the Coalfield Seventh Day Adventist Church—right next to a neighbor’s home, where young children were playing in the backyard.
“It didn’t hit the ground as hard as it could have,” Jones said. “When it hit, it broke the left landing gear arm, snapped the molding off the Inspire. But it was still running. Didn’t damage batteries, rotors were intact. Everything was fine, except the left rear motor with a bullet hole in it.”
Jones became the fourth reported drone shooting incident that Ars has been made aware of in nearly two years.
An example of Brad Jones’ drone flight, before his DJI Inspire 2 was shot down.
By any other name
Woman shoots drone: “It hovered for a second and I blasted it to smithereens.”
Just last month, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed against William Merideth, the Kentucky man who shot down a drone that Merideth believed was flying over his own property in 2015.
However, the Federal Aviation Administration considers drones to be aircraft—and under federal law, shooting at aircraft is a crime.
“An aircraft is an aircraft,” Rocky Davidson, of the FAA’s Nashville Flights Standards District Office, told Ars. “We have the same rules and regulations for shooting a regular aircraft.”
However, to date, no federal prosecutions have been brought against those who shoot down drones.
FAA spokesman Les Dorr told Ars that the agency does not track the cumulative number of reported drones that have been shot at.
"However, notice of all [unmanned aerial systems] sightings and events is now automatically forwarded to the DOT Office of Inspector General, which could decide that criminal charges are warranted," he e-mailed, noting that these reports have only begun as of February 21, 2017.
Ryan Calo, a law professor and drone expert at the University of Washington, told Ars that federal authorities could bring a case if they wanted to.
“It would seem that, in theory, you could prosecute an individual for destroying a drone.” he said in a phone interview. “That seems a rather draconian approach, so I’m not surprised the FAA has not pursued it. This is a flexible enough statute that they could bring a case.”
While some on the ground may feel that their “airspace” has been invaded if a drone flies in or near their property, American law does not yet recognize the concept of aerial trespass. In fact, as the consumer drone age has taken flight, legal scholars have wondered about this exact situation. If a drone flies over private property, is it trespassing?
The short answer is that American courts have not addressed the question adequately. The best case law on the issue dates back to 1946, long before inexpensive consumer drones were technically feasible. That year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as United States v. Causby that a farmer in North Carolina could assert property rights up to at least 83 feet in the air, and perhaps further. But he could not assert property rights indefinitely.
As the Supreme Court ruled at the time: “We need not determine at this time what those precise limits are.”
“If it’s a crime, I want it to be prosecuted,” said Jones. “If it’s not prosecuted, then what’s to keep them from doing it?”
Enlarge / Jones shows where his DJI drone was struck.
Do unto others...
Man shoots down neighbor’s hexacopter in rural drone shotgun battle
Jones told Ars, the FAA, and local law enforcement that he suspected a neighbor, Doug Lively, as the shooter. Lively denied shooting the drone to local police. (Ars was unable to reach Lively for comment.)
“I fly the same route almost every day,” Jones said. “[But], for some reason, Easter Sunday, I don’t know if the guy had too much to drink, or whatever. I never crossed his property—I looked back at my flight log—I never once crossed his property.”
Jones, who is a high school basketball coach who also runs a local television station, told Ars that “85 percent” of the land he flies over is owned by members of his extended family. He said that he had never heard anyone complain about his flights.
“I didn’t see [Lively] do it,” he said. “So I can’t say [with] 100 percent accuracy that he did. He was the only person that was standing outside of where the sound of the shot came from.”
Jones said he approached Lively but did not cross onto his property.
“I saw him standing out there and I said: ‘Hey, did you shoot my drone down?’ and he said ‘No, I didn’t. I heard some shots over yonder.’”
According to Jones, Lively also told Jones that he "didn't like the damn thing."
Jones responded that he was confident that the shots came from nearby where Lively was standing. He left, and called 911. Soon after, a Morgan County Sheriff’s deputy, Logan Alley, responded to the scene and took a report from Jones, and also spoke with Lively.
Lively also told the responding sheriff's deputy that he did not shoot down Jones' drone.
“I went and made contact with Mr. Lively and he stated that he was shooting his .22 caliber pistol in the back yard earlier in the day,” the police report states. “But when the drone was shot down he stated that he was standing at his vehicle in front of his residence and heard gun shots and seen the drone fall.”
The drone pilot told Ars that he hasn’t spoken with Lively since the incident, nor has he taken his damaged drone—or any other—out for another flight.
To read more, please visit: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2017/04/man-takes-drone-...