Skip to main content

by Mish

Let’s also take a look at a comment from a reader who claimed I was fearmongering about drone delivery of bombs.

Ars Technica reports Woman shoots drone: “It hovered for a second and I blasted it to smithereens.”

With a single shotgun blast, a 65-year-old woman in rural northern Virginia recently shot down a drone flying over her property.
The woman, Jennifer Youngman, has lived in The Plains, Virginia, since 1990. The Fauquier Times first reported the June 2016 incident late last week. It marks the third such shooting that Ars has reported on in the last 15 months—last year, similar drone shootings took place in Kentucky and California.
Youngman told Ars that she had just returned from church one Sunday morning and was cleaning her two shotguns—a .410 and a .20 gauge—on her porch. She had a clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and neighbor Robert Duvall’s property (yes, the same Robert Duvall from The Godfather). Youngman had seen two men set up a card table on what she described as a “turnaround place” on a country road adjacent to her house.
“I go on minding my business, working on my .410 shotgun and the next thing I know I hear ‘bzzzzz,’” she said. “This thing is going down through the field, and they’re buzzing like you would scaring the cows.”
Youngman explained that she grew up hunting and fishing in Virginia, and she was well-practiced at skeet and deer shooting.
“This drone disappeared over the trees and I was cleaning away, there must have been a five- or six-minute lapse, and I heard the ‘bzzzzz,’” she said, noting that she specifically used 7.5 birdshot. “I loaded my shotgun and took the safety off, and this thing came flying over my trees. I don’t know if they lost command or if they didn’t have good command, but the wind had picked up. It came over my airspace, 25 or 30 feet above my trees, and hovered for a second. I blasted it to smithereens.”
When the men began to walk towards her, she told them squarely: “The police are up here in The Plains and they are on their way and you need to leave.”
Gray Zone
For now, American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass. But as the consumer drone age has taken flight, legal scholars have increasingly wondered about this situation. 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 83 feet in the air.
In that case, American military aircraft were flying above his farm, disturbing his sleep and upsetting his chickens. As such, the court found he was owed compensation. However, the same decision also specifically mentioned a “minimum safe altitude of flight” at 500 feet—leaving the zone between 83 and 500 feet as a legal gray area. “The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land,” the court concluded.
Youngman said she believed in 2nd Amendment rights and also was irritated that people would try to disturb Duvall.
“The man is a national treasure and they should leave him the f**k alone,” she said.

Fear Mongering?

In my article, I posted a video of 4.5 pounds of explosives blowing up a bus.

The pizza drone can deliver 5.5 pounds.

Reader David commented …

Are you suggesting that if there is a potential terrorist application for a new technology, then that’s a fear-mongering argument for not developing it, or trying to ban it, or otherwise imposing some regulatory regime? If so, say so. If not, then please spare us the exploding bus scare tactic.
I’m a fairly regular reader, and I have to say this type of thing should be beneath you, unless I completely misunderstand your purpose with respect to showing an exploding bus without actually making a point. ….
He didn’t actually make a point that could be debated. People see the exploding bus and think, “this will empower terrorists to new heights of horror. We need to regulate the hell out of it.”
I’m actually a bit surprised, because Mish in general is no friend of over-regulation. He must know that just showing a video like that without being clear what his intention is in doing so has the effect scaring people and providing a rationale for stifling a technology with regulation.

Elevatorman replied …

“I thought Mish made that clear with the bus video. When I read they can carry over 5 pounds, I wondered how many grenades that would be. It’s not scare mongering. It’s called thinking.”

Mish Reply

Technologically speaking drone delivery is feasible now. But drones are also an easy way to deliver bombs. I fail to see how regulation can possibly fix that.

Dear terrorists “please register your drones” is not likely to work.

I would like to believe there is an answer, but I fail to see one.

For comparison purposes, self driving cars are easy. Cars will have to stick to roads. Technology can and will easily overcome snow, fog, etc.

Drones offer a near perfect bomb delivery prospect, that I cannot work out a way around.

Scroll to Continue


I certainly understand the benefits of drone delivery. Millions of pizza delivery jobs can easily vanish in a second. And they might.

If the economic benefit of drone delivery exceeds potential terrorist costs, they will happen. If not, then despite obvious feasibility, drone will not happen or will be reversed if it does.

Complex Issues

Reader David is correct in one assertion. I am not a fan of regulation in general.

But I am in favor of property rights. Many things are not very clear. What are reasonable boundaries? And what about safety?

Self-driving vehicles will make us safer. Unlike human drivers, autonomous vehicles don’t get drunk, don’t drive when they are half asleep, don’t speed, don’t tailgate, and don’t run red lights. They also stick to roads.

Will drones improve safety? The answer has to be a resounding “no”.


  • Do we really want drones capable of blowing up a bus flying within miles of the White House?
  • Within miles of Madison, the capital of Wisconsin?
  • Within miles of Springfield, the capital of Illinois?
  • Within miles of the Sears Tower?
  • Within miles of the Brooklyn Bridge?

Drone delivery is conceptually easier than self driving cars. In practice, there are far more concerns.

If hundreds or thousands of these things are flying all over the place, how do you control where they go?

Do we need anti-drone drones to shoot down unauthorized drones? If we do, how long will that take?

Drone pizza delivery is conceptually easier than self-driving cars. The technology exists right now.

In practice, it’s far easier for millions of cars to navigate roads of a known path than it will be to monitor millions of drones, all potentially capable of dropping a bomb on the White House at any second.

By the way, the FAA Expects 600,000 Commercial Drones In The Air Within A Year.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock