On message boards and Facebook groups, he’s known as Trappy. Fellow drone hobbyists call him an “aerial anarchist” and marvel at the videos he’s taken with his five-pound foam aircraft of the Statue of Liberty, the French Alps and the Costa Concordia, the Italian cruise ship that ran aground in the Mediterranean in 2012.
“Ask anyone who the most daring pilot is,” says Trappy himself, never one for false modesty. “The answer is probably going to be unanimous.”
But ask officials at the Federal Aviation Administration, and they’ll tell you Trappy is a 29-year-old Swiss thorn in their side named Raphael Pirker, someone who flies recklessly, flaunts the agency’s rules and might even threaten its slow, careful plans for the safe integration of commercial drones into American skies.
In 2011, the FAA slapped Pirker with a $10,000 fine after he flew his Styrofoam drone around the University of Virginia while filming an ad for the university’s medical school. With that, the most famous pilot in the underground drone world became a test case for the FAA’s authority to prohibit people from making money off their hobby.