Forget Jetpacks. Where’s My DIY Drone?

Border patrol bots, unmanned aerial pizza-delivery vehicles, and more UAVs coming soon to a sky near you.

Photos: Drones: Lt. Colonel Leslie Pratt/ US Air Force; Golfball: MyShotz/; Handcuffs: Floortje/; Pizza: MBPhoto/; Jonas Brothers: MTV2

Unmanned aerial vehicles aren’t just raining missiles on Afghanistan and Pakistan—they’re coming to the skies near you. UAV makers are eager to launch their wares in US airspace, and everyone from cops to scientists to hobbyists wants one. The FAA is still figuring out how drones and planes can play nice, but the first domestic UAVs are already taking to the air. Below, some current and anticipated flight plans.

Eyes in the Skies The Border Patrol has 7 unarmed Predators, which it says have helped bust 15,000 lbs. of pot and 4,000 undocumented border crossers. HandcuffsIn 2003, the American Border Patrol, an Arizona anti-immigration group, launched its own UAV, the Border Hawk, to look for “invaders.”

Hanging Around AeroVironment says its Global Observer’s ability to “loiter” at 65,000 feet for a week makes it perfect for mapping, weather tracking, crop management…oh, and homeland security.

Air Spray Programmable unmanned choppers have been spraying Japanese crops since the early 1990s.

Golf Ball

Seeing Green The makers of the $17,000 Draganflyer X6 helicopter say it’s perfect for golf course owners who want “stunning pictures” of their fairways.

Drone Alone Private citizens can fly their own drones, so long as they stay below 400 feet. You can build your own for less than $500. Check out

Hide and Seek In February, a British police UAV used thermal imaging to nab a suspected car thief—the UK’s first drone-assisted arrest. The Houston PD and the LA Sheriff have test flown UAVs, and the FBI has tested a model designed to fly down alleyways, tunnels, and ventilation shafts.

Unfriendly Skies Defense analysts warn that inexpensive UAVs could be “the ideal attack platform” for terrorists. In 2004, Homeland Security said it was watching for “suspicious persons” with an interest in remote-controlled aircraft.


Special Delivery FedEx’s founder says the company would like to fly UAVs in the near future.
A NASA researcher predicts that we could soon see what Air & Space calls an “unmanned pizza delivery pod.”

Jonas Brothers

Bombs Away At the White House Correspondents’ Dinner in May, President Obama warned the Jonas Brothers: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones.”


as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot. That's what Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein tackles in her annual December column—"Billionaires Are Not the Answer"—about the state of journalism and our plans for the year ahead.

We can't afford to let independent reporting depend on the goodwill of the superrich: Please help Mother Jones build an alternative to oligarchy that is funded by and answerable to its readers. Please join us with a tax-deductible, year-end donation so we can keep going after the big stories without fear, favor, or false equivalency.


as we head into 2020 is whether politics and media will be a billionaires’ game, or a playing field where the rest of us have a shot.

Please read our annual column about the state of journalism and Mother Jones' plans for the year ahead, and help us build an alternative to oligarchy by supporting our people-powered journalism with a year-end gift today.

We Recommend


Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.


Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.


We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.