Drone Delivers Beer to Ice Fishermen, FAA Calls

Alex Van Buren
Food Features Editor
January 30, 2014

Here is a video (set to a kicky lounge soundtrack) of a drone carrying what looks like a 12-pack of beer across a frozen lake. Three adorable ice fishermen and fisherwomen happily receive the delivery and take it back to their ice shack. Just another day in the Midwest.

We’re stoked about the advent of drone deliveries, and when we first saw this video, it seemed like a genius application of the technology. But before we officially filed it under “totally awesome idea,” we called Jack Supple, the president of Wisconsin’s Lakemaid Beer, who commissioned this video to be shot on nearby Lake Waconia. Turns out it’s still not legal for folks to deliver beer via drones, and the flurry of press about his adorable little video caught the attention of none other than the Federal Aviation Administration.

"It started out in fun," Supple told us. "We saw Jeff Bezos on ‘60 Minutes’ with his [drone] carrying parcels and the immediate reaction was kind of, ‘You’ve got buildings and steeples and power lines and everything else!’" A lightbulb went off when Supple started thinking about his typical customer: "Our guys are out in fish houses, ice houses. They know their GPS coordinates; that’s how they find their spot on the lake." This would make it easy, he realized, to plug a fisherman’s coordinates into a drone. “You [just go] lower than the 400 feet limit required by the FAA.”

Inspired, Supple rented a drone to try beer delivery, and shot the video. The drone successfully picked up the package—which held only a few brews, not a full dozen—and flew it across the 3000-acre frozen lake to the three snow bunnies. It was Supple’s sole test of the technology, but since the video has hit the press, Lakemaid’s ”social media has gone wild.” He was getting all set to “kick it up a notch” and order a heavier drone—a $15,000 “eight-blade octocopter”—that could handle the weight of a full 12-pack of beer. But then he got a phone call.

"We were all excited, and then the FAA called yesterday," he sighed. "We are on the radar." (Pun intended?) "I guess I was in violation two ways." For one, even though he protests that he was only flying "80 feet high," Supple was within 30 miles of the Minneapolis airport. The other is that his excellent video has been deemed "a commercial use—we’re getting press out of it." Though the FAA has not demanded that Supple take down his video, future test deliveries will not be filmed. "I have about 87 pages of regulations that they sent me. Apparently I’m contrary to 14 Part 91 of the regulations, so ixnay on the ideovay."

If you live near Lakemaid, you won’t be getting beer delivered to your ice-fishing shack any time soon: Supple has decided not to go head-to-head with the FAA, testing only “recreationally.” (Drones don’t look likely to be approved for commercial use until 2015.) 

To see if this might be in high demand among ice fishermen, we reached out to an avid amateur ice fisherman in western Massachusetts. "Once you’re out there and having a good time, you can run out of beer," our sportsman told us. Clearly, the service is of crucial importance. 

This sobering note made us wonder what would happen if the brews landed at a desperate, liquor-free ice shack that also lacked a bottle opener. Would Supple consider sending beer openers with his deliveries? Not to worry, he told us, “they’re twist-offs.”