FAA Investigating Drone Pilot Who Shot the Nashville 4th of July Fireworks from Above

Last weekend, following the Fourth of July festivities, we shared a wonderful video of a Florida fireworks show as seen by a drone recording from within the show, perilously close to the colorful explosives. It wasn’t the only such video to air post-Independence Day, however.

Others, including the video above shot by Robert Hartline in Nashville, TN also received tens of thousands of hits and, as it turns out, a bit more attention than he bargained for… Hartline is now being investigated by the FAA.

If you read our coverage of the Florida video, you’ll remember that we noted that this particular video was very safe because it was shot over water. If the drone was to be hit by one of the fireworks and come crashing down, the only thing that would get hurt was the drone (and the drone pilot’s wallet).


That’s not the case with the Nashville video, however, and it’s this fact that has led to the FAA investigation. According to an article in The Tennessean, the administration confirmed that it received two complaints from concerned citizens, and is now looking into the video.

For his part, however, Hartline isn’t terribly concerned. After all, it’s not like he was playing chicken with a NYPD helicopter.

To hear him tell it, “The reality is that somebody was much more likely to have an accident on the way to the show than for (the drone) to fall out the sky and land on them.”

(via Imaging Resource)

  • OtterMatt

    “The reality is that somebody was much more likely to have an accident on
    the way to the show than for (the drone) to fall out the sky and land
    on them.”

    Well, he’s not wrong about that. I think the FAA is still testing the waters to see what they actually need to do about legislation and restrictions. The FAA is the only government office I still have any respect for, and that’s primarily because all of their rules were written in blood because at some point, somewhere, someone screwed up.

  • Fullstop

    He may be right about the chances but he’s still a jackass for doing it.

  • hmck

    Someone is more likely to be hurt by the fireworks falling on them.

  • Todd Williams At Magnolia

    The FAA sat on their hands for far too long by trying to enforce internal policy as law. (and handing out 10k fines before having their hands slapped by an FAA judge)

  • T Will

    sooooo, people were concerned about a plastic drone falling on their head as apposed to flaming balls of firey hell exploding near them? Makes perfect sense…….

  • Stephen S.

    That’s certainly true, but it doesn’t mean the FAA must now abdicate the issue entirely. They were doing it wrong, and that’s been established. Now they have to figure out how to do it right. If people did in fact complain about this incident, then it seems appropriate for the FAA to investigate. We’ll see what happens next.

  • lexplex

    More people will die from obesity in the next week than will be killed by civilian drones in the next ten years but that still doesn’t make it a good idea.

  • Pickle

    That flaming ball is just over the water. That flaming ball is mostly gas after it explodes and there is nothing left to come down. Is that your picture or are you stealing it from someone else?

  • Pickle

    Am I the only pickle here who wants photographers to follow the rules and not ruin photography for the rest of us?

  • Clayton Finley

    You’re obviously not a pilot then lol.

  • Jason Yuen

    Fireworks are designed to explode in the air. Drones are not designed to fly near explosives nor are they designed to fall and crack your skull open.

  • T Will

    If there isnt anything left to come down after it explodes, then why did they do it above water? hummm…..
    Rules? What are these rules you speak of? Camera must stay on or near ground or on tripod? Are these your rules? Hummm…
    Oh, p.s The picture came from graphic stock which I submit and shoot for as well as have a subscription to, unlike the insignia of a team that I’m willing to bet you didnt call and ask for permission to use. :)

  • Pickle

    I don’t think people appreciate how much force something that big can have when falling 500 feet.

  • T Will

    correct, and fireworks never, ever, ever, ever, maim, burn or hurt anyone….ever….

  • Jason Yuen

    That’s naive of you to think that.

  • Jason Yuen

    People have a twisted sense of standards when comparing 2 or more things together. They tend to think the less worse of each is naturally better when in reality each should be compared to the level of the standard for their own. More people die from vehicle accidents than drones crashing into their heads. The difference is that vehicle safety is strictly regulated while drones are not (yet anyway).

  • Kristi McMurry

    Isn’t the Nashville fireworks show over the river? It should be the same situation…the drone would have fallen in the water.

  • T Will

    Im wondering your source from the statement ” More people die from vehicle accidents than drones crashing into their heads” MORE? because I haven’t heard of EVEN 1 death from a civilian drone…talk about comparing apples and oranges..

  • Jason Yuen

    Exactly. That’s why you don’t compare them together directly. There were 33,561 fatal vehicle crashes in 2012 in the states. Now imagine there were 33,561 fatal drone accidents in the same year. Which one do you think is more alarming given the level of safety designed into each? But obviously if there were 33,561 drone deaths, a much higher level of safety would be in place already. Either way, I wouldn’t feel safe with a 10 pound object with spinning blades to be flying over me in a public place. It’s not something I’d reasonably expect in any public place.

  • T Will

    but there weren’t…that’s the difference….Not even 1

  • Jason Yuen

    Again you’re comparing it unfairly. How long have fireworks been in use and how long have commercial drones been in use? Different time scale.

  • T Will

    doesnt matter how long each has been in use persay. Lets compare it this way then to appease you : Fireworks THIS year have burned how many people? Bet more than one….drones killed or maimed or burnt or whatever people this year…still None.

  • behindthecamera

    This is why we can’t have nice things.

  • Jason Yuen

    That would be a more fair comparison, but still does not account for the fact that commercial drones are still a relatively immature technology. We don’t need to wait for someone to get hurt or killed to put in precautions even though often that is what ends up happening.

  • Brucee10

    Yes. Following the rules eliminates so many avenues for creativity. The world needs a shake up every now and then so we can move forward as a society.

  • T Will

    how much precaution exactly does one put on a plastic drone with four plastic blades that you can stop with your finger most likely unscathed?

  • Jason Yuen

    That’s not what’s the worry though (people have gotten stitches from drone blades though). Drones come in varying sizes. Let’s say minimum 1 pound and up. 1 pound hurtling down at 9.81 meters per second will not only crack you skull, but do considerable damage to anything it hits. That’s where regulations will make them safer. Who knows, maybe there will be some sort of crash detection feature and deploy airbags to at least allow it to bounce and absorb some impact force.

  • T Will

    go watch some youtube videos of drone crashes. 3,000 feet in the air, power failure and crashes to ground. ground undisturbed and drone isn’t even broken. I know I know, but it wasnt someones head. Point is, these things dont come barrelling down like a lead ball would, they flip and wobble around greatly reducing the speed at which its falling, so much so that it doesnt even break plastic

  • Mr Hogwallop

    A DJI phantom weighs about 3 pounds and is made of plastic. The Parrot and another new one are even smaller and the blades are protected. Most likely safer and they won;t cause a lot of damage. Home made or more commercial drones can weigh in a 20 -30 lb and have 8 blades a metal or CF structure a mounted DSLR and will hurt if it crashes into or onto something.
    Eventually something will happen and there will be a real accident. Then all the handwringers can say I told you so, the RC drones will be regulated and licensed, people will be fined so the govt can get some $$$ out of the deal (they hate it when they can’t figure how to tax something :)).

  • Jason Yuen

    True. It doesn’t fall like a rock, but undoubtedly anything hitting your head is cause for concern. I would in fact be more confident in drones if they required licenses to fly. Just get some sort of training into the pilot. Not all accidents are nefarious and usually are unintentional. Training would go a long way. Not that far fetched considering LA is issuing licenses to people for self-driving cars.

  • Steven Robertson

    Photo journalists with a heavy investment in the latest gear fear drone technology

  • Burnin Biomass

    Why? All they have to do is buy a drone.

  • Brian Hursey

    I flew RC aircraft all through HS.. One of the big rules so that the FAA and the AMA agreed upon was we would fly in controlled and designated flight areas. AKA clubs. There were strict rules and regulations to keep people safe. We never ever flew aircraft over people. The issue now is with easily obtainable affordable aircraft people are flying them anywhere they want. The other Florida fire works show. You see he takes off from the side of the shore and just flys over water. If you look at this one he takes off over people in a parking lot then over a highly populated bridge of people and so on. If the battery failed, or an motor failed, or a prop came loose. It would come crashing down on those people leading to injury. From that altitude I have had fails mid flight and its not pritty. I think thats the issue here. He was flying the quad copter over very high populations of people. I would never fly any RC aircraft over people like this. I have had many almost hit me while on the flight line. Im all for areal photography. However this was going way beyond really safe practices. He is so high that a total failure would cause a bread deal of force. I have seen rc helicopter fail and hit so hard it was barred in the ground part ways. There was literally a crater.

  • Michael

    Fireworks are a LOT more than “mostly gas” after they explode; having worked with the pyro team for a local AA MiLB team for the last 5 years I have been hit by plenty of hot (sometimes flaming) debris to know otherwise. This is why there are regulations on how close the audience can be based upon the shell/cake/mine size and height they attain.

  • Ronin

    Does the fact that it’s a SMALLER chance, really make it ok? Cardinal rule, NEVER fly over people or property you’re not prepared to pay for, including their medical bills.

  • Cscamp20

    Im sorry but this is just plain silly! People here in America complain too much. DId something bad happen here! someone got hurt? Get a grip people! how is this different from people driving their cars or bikes over 100 MPH on the freeway?

  • Burnin Biomass

    Driving 100 MPH on the freeway is illegal and dangerous too.

  • OtterMatt

    I’m not myself, but I’ve spent enough time in the cockpits of private aircraft to have a rather firm grip on what’s going on. Yeah, some of it is irritating (the commercial stuff especially), but on net, I’d still say the FAA is the only gov’t branch doing more right than wrong.

  • OtterMatt

    That may be one of the most self-righteous and careless statements I’ve ever heard on this website. It’s perfectly feasible to be creative and progress without resorting to disregarding others and their safety, much less their goodwill. I imagine you might find that you can do just as well by working with people rather than against or around them.

  • OtterMatt

    Why, are 3-lb drones suddenly capable of taking a D4s with a 70-200 into the air and shooting with it? GoPros can only take so many kinds of shots. I think the rest of our jobs are safe.

  • OtterMatt

    It can be charged as attempted suicide in some jurisdictions.

  • Rizzles

    But did anyone die? No? Then I see no reason for an investigation.

  • Alpha 1 Legal

    Couldnt agree with you more ‘OtterMatt’.

  • You Can’t Catch Me

    Oh sheesh. The guy that filmed this was just feet from us. He hovered over our group waiting for the show to start. Not once did I feel concerned about it being overhead. The thing was tiny and couldn’t have weighed much at all. The worst danger anybody at the show encountered was getting out of the parking lot.

  • You Can’t Catch Me

    In past years they have shot them off from a barge in the river, but this year they shot them off from the stadium. However, the drone itself was over the river for most of his fight.