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July 12, 2020

So it Turns Out No One Knows Who is Flying a Large Swarm of Drones Over Colorado

In the skies above Northeast Colorado, coordinated flights of numerous drones have been a nightly occurrence. Approximately 17 drones have flown over Phillips County and near Yuma County in grid patterns. These drones have wings spanning six feet and fly several hundred feet in the air, baffling residents.

The drones have been reported by the Denver Post, and the Army, Air Force, DEA, FAA, and local law enforcement all have said that they do not know who is flying these drones or what they are being used for. According to the Denver Post, the sheriff’s department says that the size and number of the drones mean that it is unlikely that hobbyists are flying them. One drone hovered over Paoli, Colorado without moving all night one night while eight others flew over the town of Haxton.

The undersheriff estimated that the drones were flying between 30 and 40 miles per hour. The drones themselves cannot be seen from the ground because of their flight level (altitude), but they have strobing red, white, blue, and green lights that are visible from the ground.

The drones are not being flown in violation of Colorado law. However, the FAA requires that people fly drones during the daytime and within the pilot’s sight. Pilots can receive waivers of these requirements, however. These requirements may not apply to the drones that have been spotted since the regulations apply to drones that weigh less than 55 pounds. For larger aircraft, drone operators must fly commercially and must be actual pilots.

Law enforcement officials state that they are very aware of the presence of the drones and have asked residents to make reports if they see one of them land. At the same time, officials have reminded residents that it is illegal to shoot, or attempt to shoot, the craft down. 

The description of the drones and their flight patterns makes it sound as if someone is conducting a test of surveillance capabilities over a broad area with autonomous drones. Flying a group of inexpensive drones in a grid pattern could allow them to cover a large area instead of using more expensive aircraft that could take a longer period. By using multiple drones in a grid pattern, mapping, search-and-rescue efforts, and general gathering of intelligence could be faster.

The area where the drones are flying is sparsely populated, flat, and desolate. The terrain is ideal for line-of-sight control, but the flights are suspicious since they are not happening legally. Since the flights are happening at night, the timing makes it apparent that the responsible parties understand that they are operating outside of the FAA’s regulations.

Finding where the drones are being launched and are landing would be difficult. The lights could be turned off when they take off and land. Since there is little ambient light in the area, it would be difficult for people to see them at night during takeoff and landing. These drones could also take off from small areas and do not require a runway. Any individual or small group that has sufficient resources could be behind the drone flights.

The reports of the grid patterned-flights and the potential autonomous navigation from far away are troubling. The attack on Saudi oil facilities that happened in Sept. 2019 used similar operational concepts. Drones that are similarly sized could carry explosives instead of surveillance gear. With 17 drones, they could hit multiple targets simultaneously or swarm a single target from many directions. While this might seem to be an outlandish idea, similar attacks have been carried out in other countries. Small drones could be used for nefarious reasons in the U.S. just as they have been used for such reasons in other countries.

Regardless of the reasons why the drones are being flown and who might be behind the flights, their nightly presence has become a real mystery in Colorado. As long as the flights continue, the mystery and reports will keep coming in.

In the meantime, we’ll be waiting for the day these overflights are featured on another one of Netflix’s ‘mystery’ specials. 

 

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