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AMA and aeromodelers everywhere outraged at terrorist’s plan to attack Pentagon, Capitol with RC model converted into a UAV

M U N C I E – The Academy of Model Aeronautics is shocked and outraged by the actions of a 26-year-old Massachusetts man arrested this week on federal charges for his intent to use an RC model airplane reconfigured as a UAV, similar to a military drone, for an explosive-laden attack on the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon. The suspect is not an AMA member nor has he been confirmed as being a model aviation enthusiast.

“When an otherwise safe and wholesome hobby becomes the focal point in a planned terrorist attack, we are as outraged as all citizens,” said AMA Interim President Mark Smith. “Like all Americans, we appreciate the professionalism of the FBI in this case. The AMA’s 143,000 aeromodelers throughout the country pledge to keep a vigilant eye in their communities on any suspicious activity involving RC aircraft.”

To read the FBI’s affidavit on the case, go here. To read the media release from the Department of Justice, go here.

Rezwan Ferdaus, a U.S. citizen from Ashland MA, and a physics graduate from Northeastern University, was arrested after lengthy monitoring and a sting operation by the FBI this week. Ferdaus had acquired three RC jets, an F-86 Sabre and two F-4 Phantoms, plus explosives and cell phones wired like IEDs. He kept them in a storage facility to work on. It isn’t known at this time if Ferdaus was able to fly the airplanes or if he had assistance. The public, according to the bureau, was never in danger.

Though Ferdaus’ plan was to convert a commercially available model aircraft into a GPS-guided unmanned aerial vehicle, there is a strong distinction between a hobbyist’s model aircraft and UAVs designed for commercial or military use. “Modelers everywhere are outraged by the literal hijacking of model aircraft for such a nefarious purpose,” said Rich Hanson, AMA’s Government Relations and Regulatory Affairs representative and former Vietnam helicopter pilot. “Our 143,000 members follow a strict safety code, always fly within sight, and remain clear of frangible property or people. When we hear this sort of item and activity labeled as a ‘model’ we are concerned that our recreational and educational hobby is being misrepresented.”

To date, the FBI has not released photos of the actual RC airplanes, only photos such as below of models that are “similar.” “The public will see these photos and think ‘model” when it is the internal configuration, capabilities, and use of the plane that defines it,” continued Hanson.

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4 thoughts on “AMA and aeromodelers everywhere outraged at terrorist’s plan to attack Pentagon, Capitol with RC model converted into a UAV
  1. Let me pile on a bit, here.

    I just bought, with my business partner, a $5,000 balloon for advertising. I’d *really* *like* to not have it fly away if it loses radio signal. And it’d be really great to launch this from my home, drive to the venue, swap batteries and let it fly on a pre-defined course based on an internal autopilot.

    It’s a 15′ balloon; it can carry about 2 pounds…and that’s all radio. In no way is it attractive as a terrorist tool.

    Can I still *make* this autopilot, or will I go to jail?

  2. Well, you would be flying it illegally as in fact I think you probably are now if it flies outdoors. You must wait for the sUAS rules to come in if your in the USA. Perhaps LTA is not covered Patrick would know.

  3. While I certainly do not, in any size, shape or form, condone the actions that Mr. Ferdaus was allegedly taking, the AMA’s response through Mr. Hanson seems to me like little more than political posturing. I understand that modelers across the country are concerned about the way others will view building and flying model aircraft as a result of this incident and I understand why others not involved in the hobby might be concerned that model aircraft might be (ab)used in this manner again in the future. However, Mr. Hanson was more than just a little disingenuous when he tried to differentiate between model airplanes and these devices: “The public will see these photos and think ‘model” when it is the internal configuration, capabilities, and use of the plane that defines it.” Well, yeah, the public is going to think ‘model airplane’ because these *ARE* model airplanes. The fact that Mr. Ferdaus attempted to pack them full of C4 does not alter that fact.

    The problem is that ultimately, it is not the model airplane, the cell phone or even the C4 that makes something a “weapon”. It is the intent behind the use of the item. A belt, a towel, a spool of fishing line, a pen…we are surrounded by items every day that can be misused as weapons, but we don’t freak out about them. A model airplane is no different. It can be used for a number of good purposes, from getting kids in school interested in aeronautics, engineering and computer science, to atmospheric or other research, to testing the viability of a design before building a full-scale prototype, to simply spending quality time with your family on weekends…or it can be used as a weapon, as Mr. Ferdaus intended (although I am skeptical about how much damage a model airplane, even a large model packed with C4, could do).

    In my own humble opinion, when we, the members of a niche community like R/C aircraft or UAS hobbyists, freak out and bring attention to an act like this, we are doing ourselves more harm than good. Efforts to distance ourselves from actions like this — especially when those efforts are as obviously incorrect as Mr. Hanson’s message is — only serves to build distrust between our community and society at large.

  4. Reading the AMA response to this situation, I found myself focusing more on the “shocked and outraged” comment than on the heart of the matter. I have to agree with Mike that the AMA’s official response left a little to be desired. Why is there shock and outrage over the fact that a would-be terrorist is thinking about using a model airplane to carry explosives? It’s not a new idea by any stretch, and makes the AMA appear naive. I would be shocked if the notion never actually occured to a terrorist. They might be misguided, but they aren’t stupid.

    In any case, the AMA could have sounded a bit more mature and professional and state that hearing of these plans is not surprising and that anyone with any knowledge at all realizes how foolish and impracticale the idea really is. In fact, I found another article in which an AMA official was much more candid and said as much. Too bad it wasn’t the official response.


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