Nobody knows where they are coming from, or why they are there.
Back on Christmas we wrote about large, non-governmental drones flying in mysterious patterns in Colorado. Since then, sightings have only increased, despite there being no explanation as to why.
Local sheriff's departments in regions of Nebraska and Colorado have been "bombarded" with reports of large drones with "blinking lights and wingspans of up to 6 feet" flying over rural towns and open fields, according to MSN News. The drones have even prompted a federal investigation - yet no one has been able to explain them.
Missy Blackman, who saw three drones hovering over her farm outside Palisade, Neb said: “It’s creepy. I have a lot of questions of why and what are they, and nobody seems to have any answers.”
Sheriff James Brueggeman of Perkins County, Neb. saw the drones on patrol one night. He commented: “In terms of aircraft flying at night and not being identified, this is a first for me personally.”
He said he has heard rumblings of people wanting to shoot down a drone, but has urged residents to contact law enforcement instead.
Brueggeman said: “I think it’s kind of a joke, but you have to remember the part of the country we live in. People here don’t like their privacy to be invaded.”
Dawn George, who lives near Wray, Colo. said: “They’re high enough where you couldn’t shoot one anyway, but they’re low enough that they’re a nuisance.” She says her dogs bark at the drones when they fly over.
The drones are attracting attention at the same time the FAA proposed new regulations that would require most drones to be identifiable. A spokesman for the FAA, Ian Gregor, said the timing of the rule was coincidental, but also that the agency had opened an investigation into the "mystery" drone sightings.
Gregor said: “Multiple F.A.A. divisions and government agencies are investigating these reports.”
Meanwhile, the drones have been the talk of rural Colorado and Nebraska. Sighting are increasing and so are the inquiries of witnesses and those in the area. Some have suggested simple answers, like a mapping operation or land survey, but many ask why those tasks would be undertaken at night.
Senator Cory Gardner, Republican of Colorado said he would “closely monitor the situation.”
But regulations around drones are still fuzzy:
Unmanned drones, which have exploded into popular usage in recent years and can be used for everything from mapping to photography to farming, can be difficult to track. Operators of all but the smallest drones have been required to register with the federal government since 2015, but there is no straightforward, legal way for state and local officials to identify the owner of a particular drone or to track that drone’s location.
Reggie Govan, a former chief counsel to the F.A.A. who now teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Law School said: “Like in many other areas of drone regulation, the statutory and regulatory framework is lagging the technology. It’s just that simple.”
Govan says the government has tracking tools to figure out where the drones are coming from, but the vast distance they fly over could make it difficult. Limits in drone detection have allowed rogue operators to approach the White House without raising alarms and even deploy homemade bombs in a Pennsylvania neighborhood, in one case.
Michael Yowell, a sheriff’s captain in Lincoln County, Colo said: “Most people are very reasonable, and they say it could be somebody mapping or doing topography. But you can’t rule out what you don’t know.”
The sightings started in Northeast Colorado in mid December and have grown more widespread since then. Almost all sightings have occurred between sunset and 10PM, but they have occasionally been spotted during daylight hours. One witness said she looked at them through binoculars and saw no markings, just plain silver and white coloring. Captain Yowell tried to photograph the drones but couldn't get a clear picture.
Yowell said: “We want to know, at around 10 o’clock, when we start to lose visuals of these, which direction are they homing? Which way are they heading? We hope that’s how we can contact somebody on the ground.”
Residents like Dawn George are worried they may never get answers: “All the sudden, it’s just going to stop and we’re not going to have answers. And that’s very unsettling to a lot of people. It’s the fear of the unknown.”