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Frank Gray


Hey cranks, give toy drones a pass

Sunday morning the newspaper had a story on miniature predator drones for sale as toys, and my first reaction was, “I’d love to have one of those.”

It was just coincidental that I had been to the mall the day before and was admiring some remote control helicopters on sale at one of those booths people set up in the middle of the aisle. But I didn’t get one because my life has other priorities and I knew I’d be lousy at working the remote controls and would soon crash the helicopter if I owned one.

I’ve been fascinated with model airplanes – the kind that fly – since I was a kid, and I knew a few people who flew them, but I’d never flown one or owned one. The hobby, which back then involved building your own plane from scratch, was way too tedious for me.

Now here’s this story about these inexpensive little drones, and I’m surprised to see that they are attracting the attention of people who don’t like them. They want the company to quit making them.

As I read the article, though, it became clear to me that I really wouldn’t want one of these at all. They are just a few inches long and made of die-cast metal. They come with stands so you could put them on a shelf and look at them. They don’t fly, at least not any better than your typical rock.

The California company that makes them, called Maisto, makes a few remote-control cars and, it appears, thousands of different varieties and sizes of die-cast cars, trucks, hot rods, and historic aircraft that are sold in shops all over.

A lot of people are into models like that, but I’m not.

That’s when I realized how absurd the people who were protesting the company’s drone models are, the ones who had started and were signing a petition on the Internet. They are what I regard as nut cases, and sometimes I wonder why the media even pay attention to them.

The online petition was pushing for a drone-free world, saying we should all ponder what it’s like to be attacked by a drone, and demanding that Maisto stop making the tiny metal models.

I wonder why there is no protest that the company is also making die-cast models of the B-17, the B-24, the Hurricane, the P-51, the F-15 and the F-18, Hummers, Apache helicopters, tanks and all sorts of other machines used to kill millions of people in past wars.

I’ve concluded it’s because they are crackpots, and I’m glad the Maisto hasn’t bothered to comment or respond and I hope they have great success selling their little die-cast planes.

I won’t be buying one though because if I’m going to get a drone it will be one that flies. Certainly, I thought, someone must make drones that fly, drones that someone like me could own.

Indeed someone does – a lot of people do. For not a lot more than the die-cast version, you can actually buy a flying, remote-control model drone. If you’ve got the money you can get larger drones that have extended flying times, and for an extra $99 you can even get a camera to mount on the airplane so you can survey the countryside remotely.

I won’t buy one, though. It’s not on my list of priorities and I’d probably not be able to figure out the remote controls and would crash the plane.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.