18 U.S.C 32 states

... to include destruction of any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce.

According to the FAA, drones fall under the category of UA (unmanned aircraft):

The US Federal Aviation Administration has adopted the name unmanned aircraft (UA) to describe aircraft systems without a flight crew on board. More common names include UAV, drone, remotely piloted vehicle (RPV), remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), and remotely operated aircraft (ROA).

Under these circumstances, it is illegal.

But do non-government/non-commercial drones fall under this category? (drones owned by the average civilian)

According to FAR 119-91C

Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

It's common to see people flying drones at lower altitudes than this.

So assuming that drones are considered aircrafts and fall under these laws...


If someone flew their drone under 500 feet over your property, would it be legal to shoot it down under a circumstance such as self defense? Could the shooter be charged under 18 USC 32?

To avoid potential gun laws from interfering with information gathering:

  1. What if an imitation firearm, such as a BB gun , was used?
  2. What if no firearm was used? (Take the drown down by hitting it with a towel or broom)

Feel free to include info relating to real firearm use (handgun, rifle, etc..), just know it's not what I'm truly asking about.

2 Answers 2


18 USC 32(a) says

Whoever willfully—

(1) sets fire to, damages, destroys, disables, or wrecks any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States or any civil aircraft used, operated, or employed in interstate, overseas, or foreign air commerce...

shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years or both

18 USC 31(1) defines "aircraft":

The term “aircraft” means a civil, military, or public contrivance invented, used, or designed to navigate, fly, or travel in the air.

A personal private drone is not public or military, but it is "civil". In the definitions (b), it also says:

In this chapter, the terms “aircraft engine”, “air navigation facility”, “appliance”, “civil aircraft”, “foreign air commerce”, “interstate air commerce”, “landing area”, “overseas air commerce”, “propeller”, “spare part”, and “special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States” have the meanings given those terms in sections > 40102(a) and 46501 of title 49.

The Title 49 definition (16) say

“civil aircraft” means an aircraft except a public aircraft.

So on that count alone, it is illegal, a federal crime.

On a second count, it is illegal: it would count as destruction of property. In Washington under RCW 9A.48.070 it is a Class B felony:

(1) A person is guilty of malicious mischief in the first degree if he or she knowingly and maliciously...

(c) Causes an impairment of the safety, efficiency, or operation of an aircraft by physically damaging or tampering with the aircraft or aircraft equipment, fuel, lubricant, or parts.

The exact details depend on what state this happens in.

FAA restrictions for drones is that they should be flown below 400 ft, specifically §107.51 says

A remote pilot in command and the person manipulating the flight controls of the small unmanned aircraft system must comply with all of the following operating limitations when operating a small unmanned aircraft system...

(b) The altitude of the small unmanned aircraft cannot be higher than 400 feet above ground level, unless the small unmanned aircraft:

(1) Is flown within a 400-foot radius of a structure; and

(2) Does not fly higher than 400 feet above the structure's immediate uppermost limit.

If the drone is actually trying to hit you, you can avail yourself of the defense of self-defense, but that is not available if you simply dislike it that someone flies too high over your property. There is no specific minimum distance from the aircraft and the ground, but the operator must fly the thing safely, and not above people.

And finally, apart from the criminal aspects of shooting a drone out of the sky, you can also be sued for property damage, and is thus illegal.

That said, in light of Boggs v. Meredith, this does not mean you will get anywhere if you sue the gunner for blasting your plane, at least if your venue is the western district federal court in Kentucky. You can sue in state court for trespass to chattels, and the FCC could (but did not) seek an action against the offender for blasting a plane out of the sky, but there is a narrow path for suing in federal court. The district court found that the plane-owner stepped off the path (the case was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction). A state court could decide whether the airspace in question is in the exclusive jurisdiction of the US.

  • This doesn’t address trespassing.
    – A.fm.
    Sep 30, 2017 at 0:05
  • E.g. if a cat or dog strays onto your property, you can shoot it even if it's not causing harm? The OPs question was specifically about FCC rules, though if the drone is actually threatening you, I doubt the courts would deny you a self-defense defense.
    – user6726
    Sep 30, 2017 at 0:55
  • I was more thinking of someone flying over to get a peek inside your property (over a fence, say) or even into your house.
    – A.fm.
    Sep 30, 2017 at 0:59
  • 3
    This answer isn't completely correct. cnet.com/news/… Nov 8, 2017 at 0:36
  • 2
    "...someone flies too high over your property." - I think this should be "too low over your property", it is unlikely someone is going to dislike something flying higher rather than lower. (I'm picturing me in court trying to justify leaving planes alone but shooting down the ISS because it was just too high. 33,000ft is ok but 1.34 million? That's too high!) Aug 17, 2021 at 12:43

The accepted answer "possibly" interprets one aspect of that law incorrectly.

Under the USC, the interpretation of what constitutes an aircraft basically comes down to a craft that moves through the air and transports 1 or more human passengers. No drone meets this specification, however a 'drone' in the typical sense is a military surveillance and/or combat instrument that happens to be capable of flight, while a so called 'hobbiest drone' or more commonly known as a 'radio controlled quad-copter', is in most aspects, an expensive toy that's capable of flight... no different really than an RC Plane.

It would be interesting to see this put to the legal test, because a federal judge may interpret things differently still from either of our interpretations.

Where things get murky is where toy-vs-drone and personal use vs illegal surveillance are concerned. Apparently the US-DoJ has allowed for the use of surveillance capable drones by law enforcement, and said law enforcement can utilize any avenue of visible capabilities afforded to them, basically meaning that if you leave your drapes open a crack and they can get a cam positioned via drone to look through that gap, then they're within their rights and you have allowed them to violate your privacy by not thinking ahead. Attacking that surveillance craft however would constitute 'destruction of public property' (the term used for any destruction of property owned by any government entity). In as far as whether it could be charged under the FAA rules, it's possible. But as to whether those rules would play out in favor of a prosecution to get a 20 year sentence for taking down an unmanned object where there's no loss of life, it would be a stretch to apply that at best.

The summary here is that nowadays, it serves us all well to have a healthy dose of paranoia and take precautious measures to protect ourselves --always. To do otherwise is just setting yourself up to get caught slippin'.

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