Drone Crashes on White House Lawn; Pilot Claims Recreational Purposes for Flight

Drone Crashes on White House Lawn; Pilot Claims Recreational Purposes for Flight
The Secret Service released this image of the crashed drone as found on the White House lawn.

A quadcopter crashed on the White House lawn early this morning.

The rig, which appears from the released photo to be a white DJI Phantom 2 quadcopter with its propeller guards installed, hit the ground just after 3am, flying at “a very low altitude” according to Secret Service spokesperson Brian Leary.

A person has since come forward claiming responsibility for the crash, stating that it was a recreational flight. The New York Times reports that the yet-unnamed pilot is a government employee, but does not work at the White House. Reports state that he is cooperating with the Secret Service on questioning and investigations.

Washington DC is currently restricted airspace, prohibiting the flight of drones of any type.

This event exposes the complexities and concerns that may need to be considered as the FAA proceeds in attempting to create legislation on remote or autonomous aerial vehicle use. It also serves as a reminder of just how difficult it can be to secure a building like the White House.

The timing of the crash is unfortunate, coming just a week after various representatives from small-drone businesses convened in Washington DC to appeal to lawmakers for FAA requirements that won’t stifle the nascent industry.

It also comes only days after a hexacopter carrying a load of drugs crashed into a Tijuana parking lot near the US-Mexico border.

The two incidents could be potentially harmful to the nascent small-drone industry, but some are still calling for thorough examination before rushing to pass laws against the flying machines.

“By all accounts, this was a small personal drone with no ability to harm the President,” writes Brendan Schulman, a lawyer specializing in drone law, in an email to Make:. “I hope the incident doesn’t cause an overreaction by government officials that might hinder people who enjoy building and finding great uses for this technology. With regulations on the way, people in the Maker community ought to get engaged with lawmakers if they are concerned that these flying robots might soon be regulated just like full sized aircraft or restricted in other ways by state governments.”

On twitter, Schulman writes “I’m going to speculate that radio jamming may have downed the White House drone. People have detected RF issues near embassies, etc.”

He also recalled the time a pilot crashed a stolen Cessna into the White House 21 years ago.


0 thoughts on “Drone Crashes on White House Lawn; Pilot Claims Recreational Purposes for Flight

  1. terre says:

    Not cool.

  2. Austin Simonson says:

    This is why we can’t have nice things :P

  3. David Rosier says:

    “This event exposes the complexities and concerns that may need to be considered as the FAA proceeds in attempting to create legislation on remote or autonomous aerial vehicle use.”

    Why do you think this “government employee” crashed it on the White House lawn?

  4. Drone Labs says:

    The WH needs a Drone Detector (http://dronedetector.com) obviously…

  5. RichBrunner says:

    So does the law prohibit the flying of drones by style of flight only or any r/c aircraft? When does a r/c aircraft become a drone in definition? We need to stop calling multi rotor aircraft generically drones. It shouldn’t be any different than a rc jet, helicopter or prop plane unless flying out of the line of site by automation or pov.

    1. ejames429 says:

      Most current jumbo jets are in some respects already really drones and the pilot doesn’t really fly the plane through all stages of flight.

  6. ekai says:

    It actually looks like an original model Phantom. You can tell because it has the old style props and there’s no bulging battery in the airframe like the Phantom 2 has.

  7. FamousAmos says:

    Recreational flying at three in the morning?

  8. Rahere says:

    A dedicated maker might offer the White House some custom-made model surface-to-drone missiles…

  9. Chad says:

    The Phantom has a built-in GPS. Flying near the white house could confuse the receiver, if they do indeed have radio jamming. If the quad loses the tranmitter, it’s supposed to go to 60 feet, then return to it’s point of origin and land itself. Jamming could affect its GPS and cause something like this to happen.
    The guy DID voluntarily turn himself in. I don’t suspect any intentional wrongdoing, even though this would be a poor choice of location for flying.

    1. nicknormal says:

      That’s interesting about the return-to-origin command; I wasn’t aware of that.

  10. ejames429 says:

    Passing laws won’t help to stop these types of events and would not in fact protect anyone. The very people that would fly a drone for criminal purposes would by definition be the very people for who the existence of any rules wouldn’t matter. The cat is out of the bag drones are here to stay and no laws that burden the law abiding citizens will stop the criminal elements. We have many gun laws and they do not stop murders or crimes from happening in any significant way. These laws against the use of drones might be effective if they are meant to stop all commerce in the parts required to sell or construct drones.

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Mike Senese

Mike Senese is a content producer with a focus on technology, science, and engineering. He served as Executive Editor of Make: magazine for nearly a decade, and previously was a senior editor at Wired. Mike has also starred in engineering and science shows for Discovery Channel, including Punkin Chunkin, How Stuff Works, and Catch It Keep It.

An avid maker, Mike spends his spare time tinkering with electronics, fixing cars, and attempting to cook the perfect pizza. You might spot him at his local skatepark in the SF Bay Area.

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