I live near the Cleveland International Airport. I have a Quadrocopter and the fence doesn't seem to be very high. I could probably fly my quadcopter into the airport. Is this legal? Can I crash a plane with it? Is this a new terrorist attack vector? Will the airport security try to jam radio signals or something?

This is just a hypothetical question. I do not intend to wreak havoc and crash planes.

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    $\begingroup$ @fooot This might be useful to you: SE Comment Link Helper $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2014 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ While I was researching this issue more after my answer, I ran accross this forum thread:rcgroups.com/forums/… I will no longer participate in this question, as I have no desire to replicate these arguments. The laws are not totally decided, at least as far as r/c aircraft. The FAA has made some decisions that have been sucessfully fought here in the US, but in today's post-9/11 society, personnaly, I wouldn't push it, YMMV. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 11:57
  • $\begingroup$ I'm surprised how much questions are about assessing responsibility in case of RC or quadcopter accident. The principle is that you pay to repair damage that are the consequences of your acts, even if you didn't do anything illegal (civil responsibility). This is the reason why the insurance business exists. In addition if you did something illegal, then you face a prosecution by the State and the penalty stated in the law (criminal responsibility). In addition if you did harm intentionally, then the penalty will be maximized. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 15:44

4 Answers 4


The legal issues are covered in another question. The FAA doesn't currently regulate recreational model aircraft operations, which includes quadcopters.

Were you to actually fly it over the fence, you could be charged with trespassing. If you had any intent to cause harm, other charges might apply (up to attempted murder if you were trying to bring down an airliner).

Can I crash a plane with it?

Not likely. If you flew the quadcopter into a jet engine intake, you might be able to shut down the engine (similar to ingestion of a bird). This would really annoy the flight crew but would normally not result in a crash. A strike in any other place is probably going to merely dent something on the plane, and utterly destroy your quadcopter. For a small plane, shattering the windshield is a possibility, and this would be a serious hazard that could cause a crash, but is quite unlikely. Without some kind of advanced guidance system, it's going to be very hard to hand-fly the copter into a plane at all, let alone precisely target a vulnerable point.

The bottom line, though, is don't do it.

Is this a new terrorist attack vector?

Maybe! The use of unmanned aerial systems by terrorists is a subject of concern and research in the defense community. The RAND Institute has published a whole book about it.

Drones are already being used by drug cartels to smuggle drugs across borders. There have also been some high-profile incidents where terrorists were able to tamper with, and in at least one case eavesdrop on, a U.S. military drone by obtaining and decoding its live video feed. I don't know of any publicized instances of someone intentionally causing damage with a UAV or model airplane, but I'm sure the terrorists are thinking about it.

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    $\begingroup$ The drug cartel link doesn't actually say that cartels are using drones. Everything in there is "won't be impossible" or "eventually". $\endgroup$ Commented May 30, 2014 at 3:40
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    $\begingroup$ "This would really annoy the flight crew..." Not to mention the insurance company that is now on the hook for a jet engine that costs at least a few million and up to about $30 million. Expect a pretty serious lawsuit, in addition to whatever criminal charges you may face. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Commented Jul 3, 2014 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ There's an episode of "Person of Interest" where an assassination is carried out by an explosive-laden drone $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 18:59
  • $\begingroup$ @rbp if memory serves, it's an attempted assassination, and it's done by an ASI hacking its way into a Predator (military) drone. Although on second though, I'm not sure about the ASI part. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 21:57

First off, it is VERY important to note that you DON'T fly a Drone. RC Model Aircraft are flown by hobbiests, and Drones are flown by the government. It is enumbant on all of us R/C modelers to enforce that at all times, lest the government decide that all R/C hobbiest model aircraft be banned.

(I am making an assumption that you aren't doing this as a member of the armed forces, or working for the government, also my comments are US oriented.)

FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012

Senate Bill, Section 607(g) …exempts most model airplanes used for recreational or academic use from any UAS regulations established by the FAA

Conference Committee Report

Senate bill with modifications… Language including model aircraft for the purposes of sports, competitions and academic purposes is removed and replaced with "hobby". The modified section includes language requiring that the model aircraft must be operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way, to all manned aircraft. In addition, language that requires that model aircraft flown within five miles of an airport will give prior notification to the airport and the air traffic control (ATC), and that model aircraft that are flown consistently within five miles of the ATC will do so under standing agreements with the airports and ATC. Lastly, language is added that will ensure that nothing in this provision will interfere with the Administrator's authority to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system. In this section the term "nationwide community-based organization" is intended to mean a membership based association that represents the aeromodeling community within the United States; provides its members a comprehensive set of safety guidelines that underscores safe aeromodeling operations within the National Airspace System and the protection and safety of the general public on the ground; develops and maintains mutually supportive programming with educational institutions, government entities and other aviation associations; and acts as a liaison with government agencies as an advocate for its members.


(a) In General. --Notwithstanding any other provision of law relating to the incorporation of unmanned aircraft systems into Federal Aviation Administration plans and policies, including this subtitle, the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft, or an aircraft being developed as a model aircraft, if--

(1) the aircraft is flown strictly for hobby or recreational use;

(2) the aircraft is operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines and within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization;

(3) the aircraft is limited to not more than 55 pounds unless otherwise certified through a design, construction, inspection, flight test, and operational safety program administered by a community-based organization;

(4) the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft; and

(5) when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport)).

(b) Statutory Construction. --Nothing in this section shall be construed to limit the authority of the Administrator to pursue enforcement action against persons operating model aircraft who endanger the safety of the national airspace system.

(c) Model Aircraft Defined. --In this section, the term "model aircraft" means an unmanned aircraft that is--

(1) capable of sustained flight in the atmosphere;

(2) flown within visual line of sight of the person operating the aircraft; and

(3) flown for hobby or recreational purposes.

When this law is passed, you'll need to contact the airport tower/operator if you intend on flying your model aircraft within 5 miles of the airport.

If, at the time of this answer, the law has not yet passed, the rules prior were to keep your model aircraft under 400ft AGL within 3 miles of an airport. Flying your model aircraft over the boundary fence OF an airport is considered tresspassing and an incursion.

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    $\begingroup$ I found specific laws for the UK as well, but this answer wore me out, so I'll stop here. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 15:59
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    $\begingroup$ It is not. It was a general rule to follow, but not an enforceable law with penalties attached. However, as short as just a few years ago, flying model aircraft was kind of a specialist hobby. We went to Toys'R'Us last night, and there is a quad-copter for sale for under $200, fully capable of carrying a small camera and with a fully featured control set. Everyone decries Amazon for thier "drone delivery", yet last night four neighbors were dogfighting their quads out back... $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 18:32
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    $\begingroup$ I should add that the law I quote above, in other sections details other than hobby r/c aircraft. If you fly a r/c aircraft or quad, for commercial purposes, you're going to want to carefully read the new laws. R/C Model Aircraft hobbiests are exempt (still) from many of the laws/requirements. Any government entities (local/state/federal) and commercial organizations desiring to utilize unmanned r/c aircraft are going to be facing much, much, MUCH, tighter regulations. $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ According to beta.congress.gov/bill/112th-congress/house-bill/658, HR658 became "Public Law No: 112-95" on 2012/02/14 (after being passed by both the House and the Senate in April 2011). $\endgroup$
    – nobody
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 20:11
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    $\begingroup$ [soapbox] Since this isn't about the laws/regulations, I'll comment. What I meant by the first lines above was that we hobbiests who use R/C Model Aircraft, IMHO, should never EVER use the word Drone to describe that thing we are flying. EVER. I don't care whether it is a VLOS, camera controlled, auto-piloted, GPS, or whatever. If we start calling them drones, then when the goverment decides to regulate against 'drones' for protection from fear of ...whatever, assasination, big brother, privacy... then our hobby will simply, in one fell swoop be made illegal. I don't drone, I model. :) $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 30, 2014 at 16:59

Intruding in an airport's controlled airspace (typically class B or C airspace) or endangering an airplane is illegal. (This includes non physical interference.) Doing this as a pilot in a plane can get your license suspended by the FAA and NTSB.

When the tower sees unauthorized entry of a drone they will clear the airspace and send security to catch the guy controlling it.

  • $\begingroup$ What if the quad has cameras on it and is being controlled from long range. How are they going to take it down? Shoot it? $\endgroup$
    – 0xcaff
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ Well, there have been incidents of LASER pointers illuminating aircraft and the users tracked down whereupon they were charged with a crime. ( laserpointersafety.com/news/news/aviation-incidents_files/… ) My assumption would be they would find you and clip your toenails with a soldering iron. :) $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 16:55
  • $\begingroup$ Umm, what makes you say that flying into an airports airspace is illegal? $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Lnafziger major airports are class B or C airspace which require ATC clearance. $\endgroup$ Commented May 29, 2014 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ @ratchetfreak Yes, for pilots. I'm pretty sure that there isn't a law that covers RC airplanes though, even if it would be incredibly stupid to do it. See the question linked in dvnrrs's answer. $\endgroup$
    – Lnafziger
    Commented May 29, 2014 at 18:28

The big problem with flying even small models near aircraft, is this: the model might only weigh a few kg and not fly very fast. Lets say 5kg and 40mph.

So you fly it near a light aircraft thats coming into land. This is doing 70 knots = almost 80mph. Thats a 5kg hard (ish) object hitting something at 120mph. If it hits the pilots windscreen, which is only thin perspex, it could kill or badly injure the pilot and everybody on board could be killed.

If you apply this to a jetliner, sure it might be harder to smash the windsceen, but the jetliner is doing 130 knots on approach - going on 150mph, so that makes a 190mph closing speed, which again could do a lot of damage. Even if the model is hovering, the closing speed is still the speed of the large aircraft and the amount of energy in the impact is related to the square of the speed and the weight, so double the speed at a given weight, you get four times the impact.

There should be no question in my mind, by all means play with these things, but if you have a loaded gun, most sane people would keep well away from pointing it at somebody. If you have any thought for other people (and your own conscience and freedom), then it should be the same with these things.

  • $\begingroup$ The speeds of the objects do not add up. The plane will hit an object while going 80. Some damage will occur. The to objects as determined by their mass will continue moving unless acted on by another Force. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 20:20
  • $\begingroup$ What doesn't add up? If you have one object doing 40 and the other 80 and they hit each other head on thats a 120 closing speed. In the case of the jet, the drone doing 40 and the jet doing 150 is 190 assuming its head on. The point I was making was that you think your slow little drone isn't going to carry much energy, but the speed of the big aircraft adds to it, so a 5kg brick hitting something at 190 is a pretty hard hit. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 21:32
  • $\begingroup$ Collision between airborne stone and car physics.stackexchange.com/q/242800 This was also discussed on MythBusters on more than one occasion. This "Wired" article shows one of them wired.com/2016/01/… I'm sure you would love for what you're saying to be true but it's not. After the impact the plane will be going slightly slower unless throttle is applied. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 3, 2017 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ The article you refer to mentions possible effects on the subsequent trajectory. I'm approaching from a different angle. All I'm saying is that its not a 5kg object doing 40mph, the speed of the aircraft has to be taken into account when working out the momentum (the force that it hits with). Yes the initial trajectory of the heavy object won't be much different but depending on the subsequent damage, if the pilot is unconcious or the fuel cap of an airliner or engine has been damaged, what happens next could well be different. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 4, 2017 at 6:23

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