Image: Gnat Warfare
Judging from the comments I've seen on a lot of drone coverage, shooting down a drone is a fantasy for a lot of people. Well, at least one enterprising company is letting people do just that, offering gun aficionados the chance to shoot at real drones that are strapped with explosives.
You heard that right—each of Arizona-based Gnat Warfare's drones have gunpowder caps strapped to them, which explode when hit with a shotgun pellet.
"It's the toughest target people ever shoot at," Gnat Warfare's George Ford told me. "It's a pretty big target, but it has a 14-15 foot lead time in front of the plane, and there's a pilot maneuvering the plane."
Here's what it looks like in practice:
The idea isn't actually new—a company in the United Kingdom started flying these "gnats" several years ago. But Ford decided to bring drone shootin' stateside. He travels around the country offering companies, large parties, and other groups the chance to shoot his gas-powered drones with shotguns and machine guns. So far, about 20 groups have gone drone hunting, and he's got plans to vastly expand in the near future. Each shoot costs at least $4,000, he says.
He's going to start selling drone-shooting packages to shooting clubs around the country (or traveling shooting experience outfits, like his company). Each package will include 14 ready-to-fly drones, a catapult to launch them, spare wings for when they inevitably gets blown up, and the explosive pods.
"It'll basically be a business ready to go, enough to get 4-5 shoots in, at least," he said.
So, pretty soon, you'll be able to do this all over the country, not just in the Southwest.
A shooter takes aim at a drone. Image: Gnat Warfare
Ford says he wasn't inspired by some Big Brother fears (in fact, he runs a separate aerial drone photography business as well), and says most people are in it for the challenge, not because they want to learn how to shoot down a spying quadcopter. But he says that he's been in talks to let military groups, including the Navy Seals, practice shooting drones.
At its core, it's a game—large groups are divided into two teams, with each member of the team getting two shots at the drone, which can fly up to 85 miles per hour and is always being flown by a skilled pilot. Points are awarded based on how many caps are blown up on a given drone.
The drones are made out of the same material that's used for political campaign yard signs and are powered with a nitro burning, gas-powered motor. Planes generally survive getting shot by pellets—they're merely re-winged after they get shot down.
Ford says he's been operating for more than a year and hasn't heard from the Federal Aviation Administration, which probably wouldn't be terribly thrilled with the sport. Ford says the whole thing is safe.
A drone being launched. Image: Gnat Warfare
"We've got a very skilled pilot flying it. When you have planes traveling 85 miles per hour with people flying guns, safety is important," he said. "The pilot here really is the experience."
As for people who aren't content hitting a drone and watching it continue flying as if it hadn't been hit, Ford says he's also designed a fully destroyable drone for shooting at with machine guns. Those drones cost $450 each time they're launched.
"We call them 'total destruction' drones," he said. "It's for a different level of clientele, obviously."