Local and federal authorities in rural Colorado and Nebraska are investigating multiple sightings of mysterious drones that have been appearing in the night sky. Sheriff’s departments in the region have been bombarded with reports of drone sightings since before Christmas. The drones have alarmed residents, prompted a federal investigation, and made international news.
The drone sightings started in northeast Colorado around mid-December. Yuma, Lincoln, Morgan, Washington, and Sedgwick counties in northeastern Colorado have reported sightings. In Nebraska, Perkins, Hayes and Hitchcock counties have also reported sightings of the drones. All are rural communities.
The drones have 6-foot wingspans and fly in grid-like patterns 150 to 200 feet in the air. Up to 30 drones were flying each night, though not all in the same place. In groups of six to 10, the machines fly in squares of about 25 miles. Almost all the sightings have occurred between sunset and about 10pm. Based on video footage of the drones, they appear to be staying at least 150 feet from buildings or people.
As of yet, officials do not know who is operating the drones or why they are flying over certain counties. The drones appear to be flying in airspace controlled by the federal government, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Army Forces Command have said that they do not have any information about the drones. Amazon, Paragon Geophysical Services, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and UAV Recon have also denied connections to the drones.
While the drones are alarming residents, they may be perfectly legal. Drone pilots aren’t required to file flight plans with the FAA unless they’re in controlled airspace. While operators of all but the smallest drones have been required to register with the federal government since 2015, but there is no simple legal way for state and local officials to identify the owner of a particular drone or to track that drone’s location. FAA spokesman Ian Gregor said the agency will be proposing a rule change that would allow law enforcement and federal security agencies to remotely identify drones that fly through their jurisdictions.