I note the availability of a "TF-19 WASP Flamethrower Drone Attachment", that is "highly compatible with most cinema/industrial drone platforms with a payload capacity of 5 lbs or more". Here's a promotional video.
This is, of course, entirely legitimate technology in a number of industries and activities. The supplier lists:
- Clear debris from power lines
- Pest management and nest elimination
- Forest fire containment back-burns / pre-burns
- Remote agriculture burns
Nothing wrong with any of those. However, I can't help thinking how much damage it could do in the wrong hands.
- What if a disaffected person got hold of one of these, and used it to start fires? In Louisiana, for example, where I lived for more than a decade, fires are not infrequently set in stands of timber. One of these tools would let the perpetrators set much larger fires, while remaining out of range of detection. What about someone antagonized by a housing development, or with a grudge against an auto dealer or manufacturer? One of these things would start a dozen such fires in a single evening, without the pyromaniac setting foot anywhere near them.
- What about a tool for blackmail? Utility PG&E is under fire in California for starting wildfires with its power lines. What if Joe Blackmailer tells PG&E, or another utility, "Pay up, or I'm going to start fires under a dozen of your pylons next week"? Again, he could remain out of detection range while doing so. California also has more than its fair share of arsonists, starting wildfires and then enjoying the ensuing chaos. I can see this being an invaluable tool for those of them who can afford it.
- The potential for terrorism is obvious. Want to take out an electricity substation, or a gasoline refinery, or anything like that? Sure, explosives can do the job, but so can this thing. A few well-directed bursts of flame in the right place(s), and everything goes up or shuts down.
Perhaps I'm too hyper-sensitized to crime and/or terrorism, having fought both for many years of my life. This tool just strikes me as having great potential for mischief, as well as accomplishing lawful, useful tasks. I note that the so-called "Jaws of Life" aren't normally sold to private individuals, to prevent their use in safe-cracking or other criminal enterprises; instead, their sale is usually restricted to fire and police departments, or the like. When that precaution is ignored, crime can result. Are there any similar measures in place to restrict the sale of these drone-borne flamethrowers? Is that, in fact, necessary? Are they any more potentially risky than human-carried flamethrowers, which are freely available and entirely legal in most parts of the country?
Yes, I know that "cinema/industrial drone platforms with a payload capacity of 5 lbs or more" aren't cheap. They're not typical "hobbyist" drones. Nevertheless, they're not too expensive, either, and they're getting cheaper - which means more people can afford them. I think one could put together a heavy-lift octocopter drone, plus the TF-19 flamethrower kit, for well under $5,000, and possibly as low as $3,000 by buying used equipment. For a motivated person, that's an achievable budget.