Federal authorities claim to have thwarted a homegrown terrorist attack last week with the arrest of Rezwan Ferdaus. But did they?
His alleged method -- using remote-controlled airplanes filled with explosives –- was nowhere near feasible, according to an expert with whom The Huffington Post spoke. The fallout, however, could be devastating to organizations that use drone aircraft for professional and volunteer purposes.
"There is absolutely no way this guy could have pulled this off," said Gene Robinson, president of RP Flight Systems in Austin, Texas. "This guy may have been into physics, but he was not an aeronautical engineer."
Robinson's company builds unmanned aerial vehicles. He is also the director of RP SearchServices, a tax-exempt nonprofit that supplies technology services for search and recovery operations.
"I've read the entire FBI affidavit, and this guy did not have a clue," Robinson said.
Ferdaus, 26, of Ashland, Mass., was arrested and charged Sept. 28 in connection with his alleged plot to destroy the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol using explosive-filled miniature planes. He was also charged with attempting to provide material support and resources to al Qaeda.
If convicted on all counts, Ferdaus would face up to 60 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The affidavit alleges that Ferdaus, a Northeastern University graduate with a degree in physics, planned to attack the government buildings with three remote-controlled airplanes –- two F86 Sabre jets and an F4 Phantom. The planes, which measure from 60 to 80 inches in length, were to be packed with five pounds of explosives each and guided by GPS equipment.
"Those F4 or F86 planes would have never lifted any of the weights that they are talking about," Robinson said. "He would have needed a much larger plane to do something like that."
Robinson said finding a suitable place for the planes to lift off would have also been an issue. Ferdaus, according to the affidavit, also realized that, but allegedly settled on East Potomac Park as a potential liftoff site.
"There is no way he would have flown that plane out of the park and not get noticed," Robinson said. "It doesn't make any difference whether you are using the turbine or the combustion engine, they scream like a banshee. The noise footprint alone would be horrendous."
READ THE ARREST AFFIDAVIT: (ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW)
Robinson has years of experience flying remote control drone planes for business, pleasure and philanthropy. His nonprofit, RP SearchServices, has been involved in several high-profile missing person cases during the past seven years, including the search for missing Alabama teen Natalee Holloway, missing Florida tot Caylee Anthony and missing Indiana University student Lauren Spierer. The organization was also involved in the recent search for Genghis Khan's tomb in Mongolia, and regularly assists other missing person search groups, including Texas EquuSearch.
During searches, Robinson flies drones several hundred feet over a particular area of interest. A small onboard camera takes thousands of photos of the landscape and provides video images as well. To date, Robinson has used the technology to locate more than half a dozen missing persons.
With the arrest of Rezwan Ferdaus, Robinson is now worried that the FAA, which had previously prevented the use of drone planes in several missing person cases, might ban their use altogether.
"The FAA could point to this as a way to crack down on anybody who wants to put anything in the air," Robinson said. "We are literally worried to death that they are going to find a way to completely shut us down because of this bozo."
The FAA declined to answer questions about whether it might attempt to further regulate the use of drone airplanes.
"No, we wouldn't have any comment on that," Laura Brown, the deputy assistant administrator for public affairs at the FAA told The Huffington Post.