Since humans first harnessed fire, they have wanted to master setting fires, but over there. As elemental a destructive force as fire itself is, controlled combustion in a directed fashion has industrial and military utility. Altogether, this should make the launch of Cleveland, Ohio-based Throwflame’s flamethrower drone feel anticlimactic, inevitable, maybe even mundane. On Thurs., July 18, the company will start selling its TF-19 WASP Flamethrower drone to the public (cryptocurrency accepted).
“We’ve been using drones both recreationally and commercially for years; this kind of thing has always been in the back of my mind,” said Quinn Whitehead, founder of Throwflame. “Drones are increasingly being used for more than backyard fun. We started designing and testing an attachment system that would be compatible with many of the commercial drones already in use.”
Throwflame already makes a personal flamethrower, the XL18, and, yes, there is an extensive section in the company’s online FAQ about the legality of flamethrowers within the United States. In Maryland, flamethrowers require a special license, and in California, flamethrowers have to feature a special nozzle that reduces the flame’s range from 25 feet to 10 feet. Otherwise, there aren’t a lot of specific barriers to flamethrower ownership within the United States. (In 2016, following video of a person roasting a turkey with a flamethrower mounted on a drone, Connecticut considered two different bills to ban the use of weapons mounted on drones. Neither bill was signed into law.)
Beyond the civilian flamethrower market, Throwflame is interested in and actively working with government customers.
“A few government procurements are in the works,” said Whitehead, “one of which involves an undisclosed government potentially using our flamethrower drones to remotely burn guarded drug fields.”
Use cases for the flamethrower in a domestic space include clearing debris from power lines, pest management and nest elimination, forest fire containment back-burns, pre-burns, remote, agriculture burns. Forestry management, in particular, is one government task that Throwflame is looking at for the WASP drone. Starting a burn in a difficult-to-reach location by drone protects the wildland firefighters from initial injury, though the power to set fires remotely comes with even more of an emphasis that such fires be set responsibly.
Military actions for flamethrowers may be more proscribed. Protocol III of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is explicit in prohibiting attacks using air-delivered incendiary weapons on military objectives located within a concentration of civilians. The Protocol further outlines limitations on non-air-delivered incendiaries in the same attacks, and specified that forests or plants are not a valid target for incendiary weapons unless the plants themselves are a military objective. That exception might be large enough to fly a flamethrower-carrying drone through, but it’s hardly permissive.
What about the possibility of a person using a flamethrower drone in a harmful manner, expressly advised against by the company?
“The WASP is a tool, just like anything else,” said Whitehead. “If someone with malice in their heart wanted to do bad things, there are hundreds of more effective means that would be much less expensive.”
Watch a video of the WASP destroying a wasp nest below: