Congratulations to the District of Columbia Radio Control Club, who designed, built and operated the model aircraft that took off from Newfoundland and touched down in Roundstone Bog, west Ireland, today after nearly two days' flying. Takeoff and landing was by remote control, but everything else was automatic -- the six-foot-wingspan craft guided itself by GPS and reported back on progress via satellite. Although other, larger automatic aircraft have flown across the Atlantic before, this is the first true model plane to make it: it weighs less than five kilos, has a 10cc engine and carries only two and a half kilos of fuel. It had around fifty grams left on landing.
It's a wonderful achievement for DIY technology, but opens up quite a can of airborne worms. In my darker moments, I see flocks of robot aircraft zooming around the place, hopping over borders with impunity and carrying untraceable packages to unknown destinations. I don't know how visible model aircraft are on radar, but the same stealth techniques are available for little planes as for big ones. Nobody's going to be carrying hundreds of kilos around the planet like this – not yet, anyhow – but combine these ideas with the home-brew cruise missile being cooked up in New Zealand at the moment and we're getting to the point where a reasonably determined individual can build a selection of useful surveillance and delivery mechanisms.
If it does turn into a problem, expect sums of money to be made available to companies building kit to counter the threat. Tiny interceptors, specialist radars and quite possibly some form of automated butterfly net might all be commissioned: for those contemplating a future career, it may be an idea to invest in some Airfix kits, some ham radio gear and a particularly big pot of glue.
That's going to be my excuse, anyhow. Wonder if it's tax deductible?