The Federal Aviation Administration has formed a task force to investigate multiple reports of drone sightings in remote areas of Colorado and Nebraska. According to the reports, the mystery drones are buzzing in grid formations of dozens or more. Residents in the area have threatened to shoot down the unmanned aircraft systems.
How it all began
The initial reports of the mystery drones started in northeastern Colorado around mid-December. The swarm spread to southwest Nebraska covering the counties between the two states. The number of drones increased with about 30 drones seen during a single night. At one point, deputy sheriffs from Philips and Yuma county tracked 16 drones between the borders of the two counties.
Characteristics of the drones
Reports indicate that the drones are of fairly good size with wingspans of up to 6 feet long. They have no markings and are just plain white and silver in color. According to some reports, they have two red blinking lights and steady white light.
The mysterious swarms contain dozens of drones flying in formations at distances of between 200-300 feet off the ground. The mystery drones form a grid pattern and descend and take off very fast. There have been reports of the mystery drones hovering over people’s property.
The drones appear mostly between 5 pm and 10 pm while a few late-night sightings have been reported. Although they fly at an altitude out of reach of civilian bullets, they still cause a nuisance with their buzzing noises. No electronic signal has been established with the unmanned aircraft systems.
Speculations about the mystery drones
The invasion of the mystery drones has prompted speculations from residents from the area. Some argue that the drones are part of a secret Air Force program in the nearby missile sites. Others have speculated that the mystery drones could be involved in a mapping operation or a land survey by oil and gas exploration companies.
A section of the residents believes that the drones are operated by drug cartels or criminal gangs. There are also speculations that the drones could be part of an experiment by companies such as Amazon, Google, NASA, and UPS which have recently tested delivery drones.
Response from agencies and law enforcement
The FAA indicated that it has not been able to establish the entity behind the swarms of mystery drones. The agency noted that it had made contacts with unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) test sites, drone companies and those authorized to operate drones in the area.
When contacted, the FBI refused to respond to the reports. Local law enforcement agencies have warned civilians that shooting down the drones is a criminal offense. Security officials said that they do not believe that the drones are posing any security threat or breaking any laws although some aviation experts believe that the drones could still pose a threat.
The FAA and law enforcement agencies said that they are going to monitor the situation and asked residents to report any mystery drone sightings. The FAA has since formed a task force headed by Morgan County Sheriff Dave Martin to investigate the mysterious drones.
County sheriffs in the affected areas also indicated they are investigating the occurrence. Yuma County Sheriff Todd Combs said the drones were operating in the unregulated Class G airspace and thus not breaking the law. He indicated that he would meet with federal government officials to further discuss the matter.
For the authorities to claim ignorance on who is flying the mystery drones, someone must either be lying or someone else must be breaking the law. The FAA requires individual drone operators to acquire Remote Pilot Certificate and register the UAS under Part 107 before making drone flights. The flight patterns of the mystery drones would require multiple waivers of flying by night, flying beyond the visual range of the operator, and flying multiple drones by a single entity.
Currently, only four companies have acquired these waivers. Out of the four companies, only two operate drones fitting the description. The two companies Zipline and Google’s Wing Aviation denied operating the drones. Apart from private entities, public agencies such as the Department of the Interior and the Military also require the Certificate of Authorization (COA). The FAA spokesman, Ian Gregor, noted that COA has become less popular with the last one expired in 2015.