Enlarge / Jennifer Youngman, 65, used a .410 gauge shotgun like this to take out a drone.Big Swede Guy
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With a single shotgun blast, a 65-year-old woman in rural northern Virginia recently shot down a drone flying over her property.
The woman, Jennifer Youngman, has lived in The Plains, Virginia, since 1990.
The Fauquier Times first reported the June 2016 incident late last week. It marks the third such shooting that Ars has reported on in the last 15 months—last year, similar drone shootings took place in Kentucky and California.
Youngman told Ars that she had just returned from church one Sunday morning and was cleaning her two shotguns—a .410 and a .20 gauge—on her porch.
She had a clear view of the Blue Ridge Mountains and neighbor Robert Duvall’s property (yes, the same Robert Duvall from The Godfather). Youngman had seen two men set up a card table on what she described as a “turnaround place” on a country road adjacent to her house.
“I go on minding my business, working on my .410 shotgun and the next thing I know I hear ‘bzzzzz,’” she said. “This thing is going down through the field, and they’re buzzing like you would scaring the cows.”
Youngman explained that she grew up hunting and fishing in Virginia, and she was well-practiced at skeet and deer shooting.
“This drone disappeared over the trees and I was cleaning away, there must have been a five- or six-minute lapse, and I heard the ‘bzzzzz,’” she said, noting that she specifically used 7.5 birdshot. “I loaded my shotgun and took the safety off, and this thing came flying over my trees.
I don’t know if they lost command or if they didn’t have good command, but the wind had picked up.
It came over my airspace, 25 or 30 feet above my trees, and hovered for a second.
I blasted it to smithereens.”
When the men began to walk towards her, she told them squarely: “The police are up here in The Plains and they are on their way and you need to leave.”
The men complied. “They got in their fancy ostentatious car—I don’t know if it was a Range Rover or a Hummer—and left,” she said. The Times said many locals believe the drone pilots may have been paparazzi or other celebrity spotters flying near Duvall’s property.
Youngman said that she recycled the drone but managed to still be irritated by the debris left behind. “I’ve had two punctures in my lawn tractor,” she said.
The Fauquier County Sheriff’s Office said it had no record of anyone formally complaining about this incident. When Ars asked if the office had heard of any other similar incidents in the region, Sgt. James Hartman replied: “It’s happened around the country but not in this region to my knowledge.”
A gray zone
For now, American law does not recognize the concept of aerial trespass.
But as the consumer drone age has taken flight, legal scholars have increasingly wondered about this situation.
The best case-law on the issue dates back to 1946, long before inexpensive consumer drones were technically feasible.
That year, the Supreme Court ruled in a case known as United States v.
Causby that a farmer in North Carolina could assert property rights up to 83 feet in the air.
In that case, American military aircraft were flying above his farm, disturbing his sleep and upsetting his chickens.
As such, the court found he was owed compensation. However, the same decision also specifically mentioned a “minimum safe altitude of flight” at 500 feet—leaving the zone between 83 and 500 feet as a legal gray area. “The landowner owns at least as much of the space above the ground as he can occupy or use in connection with the land,” the court concluded.
Last year, a pilot in Stanislaus County, California, filed a small claims lawsuit against a neighbor who shot down his drone and won. However, it is not clear whether the pilot managed to collect.
Similarly, a case ensued in Kentucky after a man shot down a drone that he believed was flying above his property.
The shooter in that case, William Merideth, was cleared of local charges, including wanton endangerment.
But earlier this year, the Kentucky drone’s pilot, David Boggs, filed a lawsuit asking a federal court in Louisville to make a legal determination as to whether his drone’s flight constituted trespassing.
Boggs asked the court to rule that there was no trespass and that he is therefore entitled to damages of $1,500 for his destroyed drone.
The case is still pending.
Youngman said she believed in 2nd Amendment rights and also was irritated that people would try to disturb Duvall.
“The man is a national treasure and they should leave him the fuck alone,” she said.