Consumer drones may be relatively small in scale but they can cause immense security problems by invading sensitive airspace. Here are 10 examples of that.

Brian Buntz

October 30, 2017

10 Slides

Hobbyist drones, which are, in essence, wirelessly-controlled flying computers are generally harmless. But, under the right conditions, the devices can cause considerable chaos. For one thing, the FBI is worried about the potential of terrorists to weaponize the devices. And irresponsible drone operators have seriously injured people, crashed into military aircraft and interfered with firefighting efforts. Here, we catalog 10 drone-related security headaches from 2017.

1. Drones invading airspace around landmarks

The number of incidents of drone operators flying or crashing drones near landmarks is growing. Several have even been documented on video. To wit, there is footage — from a drone itself — of a collision into Seattle’s Space Needle. And then there was the case where a drone flew near the Taj Mahal, reportedly “sending security agencies into a tizzy,” according to India Today. And more worrisome, there is the case of drones feared to be loaded with bombs flying over the Vatican. In the U.S., the uptick in such incidents likely contributed to FAA’s decision to restrict drone flights over monuments.

2. Drones assaulting people

Also in Seattle, a man who caused a drone to crash into a woman at a parade got a $500 fine and 30 days in jail for knocking the victim unconscious. The case was likely the first time where a drone pilot ended up with jail time for injuring someone. But there have been other injuries. Consider, for instance, the drone that fell from the sky at Palms Place pool in Las Vegas, causing the victim to go to the hospital. FAA has released a study to investigate the risk of drone-induced injuries

3. Drone disrupting sporting events 

Sporting events can occasionally be dangerous locales, thanks to flying projectiles like baseballs or hurtling into the stands. But at a May game between the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, the flying projectile to watch out for was a rogue drone. The episode caused quite the hubbub. Fans vied against each other to capture the drone, players and refs cast their eyes towards the sky instead of the field while commentators laughed during the ordeal. Meanwhile, the number of cases of drones showing up at sporting events is steadily growing. In Argentina, a fan caused a drone to hurtle to the ground by pelting it with a roll of toilet paper. And back in the United States, a drone showed up at the Falcons' Super Bowl practice earlier this year.

4. Drones thwarting firefighting efforts

Wildfires often win considerable public attention, so it is no surprise that drone pilots are tempted to fly a drone over a blaze to capture custom video of the event. But because fighting such fires often have an aerial component, unauthorized drones can prevent firefighters from doing their job. This summer, an Arizona man was charged after flying a drone over a wildfire in that state. Rogue drones have been a problem for firefighters in California as well. A man in the San Francisco Bay was cited in October for flying a drone over an airport, interfering with an aerial firefighting mission.

5. Drones posing a threat to military aircraft

Perhaps drones’ greatest security is the risk they can have for aircraft. Months ago, a drone almost collided into an F-22 Raptor while another crashed into an Army helicopter. The problem is apparently so irksome that a U.S. ally decided to blast a $300 droneout of the sky with a Patriot missile, according to U.S. general David Perkins.

6. Drones knocking out power

The potential for hackers to take out the power grid has captured the imagination of Ted Koppel and other journalists fearful that foreign powers could take control over our nation’s electricity. To date, however, stormy weather, falling trees and animals are all more dependable agents of electrical chaos. But drones can apparently cause power outages, too, as a pilot in Mountain View, California discovered, after crashing a drone into a high-voltage wire. More than 1,600 in Mountain View lost power after the drone-charring episode.

7. Drones as drug smuggling tools 

Amazon and Google are hoping to one day use drones for product delivery. It’s perhaps no wonder that enterprising drug smugglers have a similar vision. There are a number of reports of drones smuggling contraband into prisons. And in August, the U.S. Border Patrol busted a man possessing several pounds of methamphetamine who was apparently planning on using a drone to smuggle drugs into the United States. In related news, Mexican cartels are allegedly planning on using drones loaded with explosives in the United States.

 8. Drones interfering air ambulances

Today, there are dozens of air ambulances in active use in the United States. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of incidents of drone operators interfering with medical treatment by flying drones in rescue helicopters’ flight path. In August, a man injured in a car accident in Michigan ultimately died after a drone prohibited a rescue helicopter from landing. The drone operator may face legal action. In addition, a drone flying near a rescue helicopter in North Carolina nearly caused “a catastrophic incident”' and a drone interfering with a helicopter ambulance was ultimately seized by police.

9. Drones threatening passenger planes

There have been a growing number of cases of drones popping up at major airports. In October, a drone nearly crashed into a plane trying to land at Gatwick, and a drone did crash into a Canadian passenger plane while workers at JFK airport found a drone near the runway in September.

10. Drones and prisoners: A dangerous combination

A drone likely played a role in the prison break of a South Carolina inmate. Police believe that the drone helped smuggle wire cutters into the prison, enabling the prisoner to cut through several fences. And in Australia, a drone smuggling contraband into a prison was captured on CCTV.

About the Author(s)

Brian Buntz

Brian is a veteran journalist with more than ten years’ experience covering an array of technologies including the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, and cybersecurity. Before coming to Penton and later Informa, he served as the editor-in-chief of UBM’s Qmed where he overhauled the brand’s news coverage and helped to grow the site’s traffic volume dramatically. He had previously held managing editor roles on the company’s medical device technology publications including European Medical Device Technology (EMDT) and Medical Device & Diagnostics Industry (MD+DI), and had served as editor-in-chief of Medical Product Manufacturing News (MPMN).

At UBM, Brian also worked closely with the company’s events group on speaker selection and direction and played an important role in cementing famed futurist Ray Kurzweil as a keynote speaker at the 2016 Medical Design & Manufacturing West event in Anaheim. An article of his was also prominently on, a website dedicated to Kurzweil’s ideas.

Multilingual, Brian has an M.A. degree in German from the University of Oklahoma.

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