Austin Haughwout, the 19-year-old CT man who built a flamethrower drone and put a video of it on YouTube, has run into trouble in his legal case with the FAA. A federal judge has ruled that Haughwout and his father must testify under oath at depositions and hand over documents about both the flamethrower drone and the drone firing a handgun that Haughwout flew in his backyard.
Bret Haughwout and his son have refused to cooperate with the FAA, who have asked them for testimony and documents. Judge Jeffrey Meyer ruled Monday that the Haughwouts must comply within 30 days.
The CT teen built a drone with a handgun attached last year, and uploaded a video to YouTube – showing the drone in flight with the handgun firing rounds; the video got nearly 4 million views. He uploaded another video showing a flying drone equipped with a flamethrower lighting a Thanksgiving turkey – that video got almost 600,000 views.
The videos shortly caused problems for the family. While the YouTube videos were hits, Federal prosecutors were not amused; the FAA is investigating the Haughwouts for violations of FAA regulations which state that aircraft cannot be operated in a “reckless” manner. But the Haughwouts and their lawyer, Mario Cerame, say that as the drones were flown in their backyard, the subpoenas violate their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Additionally, they argue that the FAA lacks the authority to regulate recreational drones.
Additionally, CT legislators have considered bills to limit recreational drone use based on the case.
The Haughwouts believe that their case has national significance, as it may force a ruling on the question of whether the FAA may legislate recreational drones. This question is already being argued in court, as both a Maryland drone operator and the advocacy group Tech Freedom have taken the FAA to court over their program to register recreational drones.
The judge said that the term “aircraft” has been defined in “stunningly broad terms,” and commented that there was no question that weaponizing drones as Austin Haughwout did created a risk.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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