Perfectly legal technology, but it makes me nervous

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.



  1. For every good, there is an opposing evil… And we both know these would get into the wrong hands sooner or later. At least there are 'tools' to track the drone back to its 'owner' if you will.

  2. What you're missing is that an equally capable drone could carry 15-20 feet of towing chain and simply drop it across the terminals

  3. You aren't burning much with that. Not if it only needs 5 lbs. For example, the M2 / M9A1-7 Flamethrower (last US flamethrower)was 68 lbs full (43 lbs empty). So that 25 lbs of fuel only gave a burn time of 7 seconds.

  4. There is a video out there of some hobbyist drone pilot using roman candles to shoot at loud street partiers in Brazil.

    Gee, weren't we told that hobbyist class drones couldn't be weaponized?

    Oh, no….

  5. @Unknown: No, banning a product won't stop an arsonist – but I didn't call for it to be banned. I'd be a little more comfortable if care were taken to ensure that those buying it were going to use it for legitimate purposes, just as is presently done with the "Jaws Of Life" and similar equipment. When the latter is sold outside regular channels, crime can result, as mentioned in my article, with a link to a recent case. In the same way, no matter how many precautions one takes with this technology, an arsonist has many other ways to accomplish his purpose. Precautions can only make it more difficult for him – not impossible.

  6. What could possibly go wrong?

    And a drone with 5# payload capacity…waitwhat???

    We were earnestly assured that no such drones existed, just a few months ago. For reference, that's 5 hand grenades, or a shaped charge sufficient to take out a main battle tank.

    Or, much more easily, a bus or sedan.

    So clearly, nothing bad will ever happen.
    Terrorists being so universally stupid about using things in prohibited ways.


    How much of your house d'ya figure 5# of gasoline would take out? Say, at 3AM?
    Just curious.
    What about an open dry field alongside a housing development?

    Last I looked, a match head only weighs about a gram, and we've lost forests to them.

    Think your post over, and get back to us.

  7. As for your assertion, Peter, regarding the restriction of sales for "Jaws of Life", I'm reasonably certain that anyone with the requested amount of cash money can buy any of the "Jaws of Life" and related products listed here:

    The Hurst company does seem to make an effort to direct sales of new products to police/fire/first responders, but it is unclear to my casual examination of their webpage just how seriously they will question individual claims to be a "volunteer" in any of those activities.

    If you really want to get your panties in a bunch about people potentially weaponizing their property, may I suggest a quick data search of the word "Killdozer"? Perhaps we should consider the ramifications of individual ownership of pick-up trucks, plate steel, welders, and bailing wire also?

    As for the drone mounted flame thrower, maybe I just want to write patriotic slogans across the night sky next 4th of July.

  8. Replace firearm in some of your comments and your fears become anti 2nd amendment. We do NOT need big brother saying “what if?”

  9. As for what stine2469 said… it's been obvious to me for AGES that one does NOT even need a drone (or whatever) to do that or equivalent. Just a willingness and cover, and a *TINY* bit of know-how. (If *ox* can figure it out…)

  10. Flamethrowers are entirely legal?
    And to think of all those active shooters wasting their time and resources on AR-15s, when they could have spent their finances on a more effective weapon …

  11. No Aesop, you were assured that a hobby drone could not lift a payload like that – and I remain correct.

    Boys, I can't see this thing doing anything that a determined pyro with a book of matches can't do better – at much lower cost.

    This drone neurosis that our elderly friends have is just like everything else: if you want to bust tanks there are way better tools for the job. An arsonist would probably not bother with something like this either. Kids might be a problem if they got hold of it… but most of them won't have the money or access.

    Y'all'd be better off going back to worrying about Ebola Monsters gettin' ya.

  12. Aesop, a RC airplane from 20 years ago could burn my house down at 3 am and I don't know who told you drones with a #5 capacity didn't exists, the ones we use at work can do better then that. I'm not saying this stuff isn't harmless, it just isn't anything new or more dangerous then what previously existed.

  13. The item that Zuk listed is normally called a Porta-Power. Commonly available in 4 Ton and 10 Ton ratings. Most auto-body shops will have the 4 ton on hand, as the bigger one can be heavy and awkward to maneuver inside a vehicle, and over-powered for general duty.

    I see that they have finally expanded the design of the Jaws of Life to include a few somewhat useful variations. It was always frustrating to watch firefighters use the basic Jaws to get access to a vehicle's interior. Because of the lack of knowledge of how vehicles are designed, and mostly the tool design that limited them to trying to force doors apart where they are the strongest, it was often a slow struggle to access the occupants.

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