Over the past few years, drones have become mainstream. It’s not uncommon to see small hobby drones flying around to take aerial photography, and many construction and agricultural companies use drones to survey their properties. However, if you saw a large group of drones flying around your area with no explanation, it might still be cause for concern. This is exactly what happened in eastern Colorado at the end of 2019, when citizens started noticing strange groups of drones flying in formation.
The Drone Sightings
For a period of a few weeks December 2019 and January 2020, citizens in eastern Colorado, western Nebraska, and western Kansas started reporting unusual drone sightings to their local law enforcement agencies. There were a few things that made these drones seem particularly unusual. First, they were relatively large drones, and they were flying in formations. Most of the sightings involved a large ‘mothership’ and several more medium-sized drones that followed or circled it.
These drones appeared too large to be hobby drones, although many people indicated that they did not seem overly threatening. Most of the sightings occurred between 6 PM and 10 PM at night. One of the other biggest causes for concern is that law enforcement officials were the ones reporting the drones. Many police departments use drones to monitor traffic, but in this case, law enforcement officials were the ones reporting the drones and looking for answers. Since this area of Colorado is very sparsely populated, it made the drone sightings seem even more strange.
Although the drones weren’t hurting anyone, many people felt unsettled and had privacy concerns. Facebook groups where people could post their most recent drone sightings quickly popped up. Local sheriffs started keeping an eye out for the drones. Both the FAA and the Colorado Department of Public Safety got involved shortly thereafter and conducted their own investigations. On January 6th, 2020, the government held an interagency meeting with both state and local law enforcement as well as relevant government agencies like the FBI and US Air Force. Colorado governor Jared Polis as well as some members of Congress expressed their concerns about the drones and pushed law enforcement to investigate them more thoroughly.
One of the reasons why people were so concerned about these drones is because they appeared to be violating drone regulations. The FAA requires drone pilots to get a waiver for certain situations that could interfere with air traffic or cause concern. For example, drones typically require a waiver to fly at night, to make long flights, and to fly in coordinated formations, all of which these drones were doing.
While there are many theories about where these drones came from, the question of where they came from hasn’t fully been answered yet. There have been multiple investigations into these drones, which have ruled out some of the biggest possibilities.
One of the biggest theories is that these drones were part of an Air Force surveillance operation. The Air Force hasn’t publicly confirmed or denied these allegations, although an investigation by the FAA indicated that it was highly unlikely that the drone formations were part of covert military activity.
The F.E. Warren Air Force Base is located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which is very close to the Colorado and Nebraska borders. There are a number of missile silos in this area, and there are actually FAA no-fly zones nearby to protect them. It’s possible that the drones could have been part of a counter surveillance program to protect these missile silos and keep them safe. The Air Force frequently tests civilian drones to get a better idea of how they work and see how they hold up against military drones.
Since drones are becoming a larger global military threat, it makes sense that the Air Force wants to test them and make sure they are prepared. However, since the FAA has denied involvement in the Colorado drone incident, there’s no way to know for sure.
It’s also possible that at least some of these drone sightings were the result of hobbyists who were flying without the proper permits. The Colorado Department of Public Safety conducted their own investigation. They stated that they believed some of the drone sightings could have been hobbyist drones. Since the sightings were at night, they said it was also possible that some of the sightings could have been commercial aircrafts or other light sources that were misidentified.
Since drones are so much more accessible nowadays, many people buy them without a full understanding of FAA regulations and how to find drones safely. Many countries around the world are struggling to figure out how to regulate their air space as this technology becomes more widespread.
Many people also theorized that private companies could have been flying the drones. It’s become very common for companies to use drones for business purposes. In areas like eastern Colorado, farmers and ranchers often use drones to monitor their properties and maintain their crops. Many construction companies also use drones to keep an eye on their sites. However, the mystery drones in Colorado didn’t appear to be flying for either of these reasons.
People also speculated that these drones could belong to a large corporation. Companies like Amazon have been developing their own drone programs, and in the future they could use drones for deliveries. However, Google, Amazon, and Uber all denied that these drones were part of their development program.
So What Really Happened?
This fascinating case has left a lot of people wondering – what really happened with these mystery drones? Are they something to be concerned about moving forward?
There is very little physical evidence of these drones, so we don’t have a concrete idea of what model they were, what their flight path was, or what they were doing. Some people have posed the theory that the drones weren’t real, or that their size and formations were exaggerated. Without concrete evidence, it certainly seems that this is possible.
While the FAA and military organizations have denied this, it is also possible that the drones were part of a covert operation. However, if this were the case, the operation would be either for training purposes or for the purpose of monitoring the nearby missile silos. Many people have been concerned that these drones could interfere with their privacy or cause harm, but this is extremely unlikely. The Air Force and other government agencies are very secretive with their drone operations, so we will likely never know exactly what their training programs entail or whether they had anything to do with these Colorado mystery drones.
Why are people afraid of drones?
When these rogue drone spottings started, many people were very afraid. If you don’t know much about drones, you might have been wondering exactly why people were so scared of them. With their relatively small size and slow speed, they don’t seem particularly threatening at first. However, many people quickly started worrying about their privacy. Since drones have advanced surveillance capabilities, they could potentially be very invasive if they were used with malicious intent.
However, just because drones have this capability doesn’t mean we necessarily should be afraid of them. In fact, drones can really help us and protect us when used effectively. This is why the military has invested in drone technology to keep us safe from foreign threats. Many companies are now using drones for security. They also use them to automate time consuming quality assurance processes. Of course, many people also like flying drones to capture aerial photography or just for the fun of it.
Because drones are becoming more common, the FAA is continually updating their regulations to keep our airspace safe. This includes restricting drones in airspace where they could cause collisions or otherwise interfere with our safety. The FAA also requires registration and licensing to fly many larger drone models at this point. As drones become more prevalent in the future, we’ll need to be vigilant as a society to ensure we use them for good.
These drones in Colorado remain a mystery. Although they were unnerving, the drones haven’t been seen in eastern Colorado or western Nebraska since early 2020, indicating that they were likely an anomaly. While theories about these drones remain, we can’t be sure who was flying them or why they were there – or if they even existed in the first place. While the FAA and other government organizations conducted investigations into these drones, their findings weren’t substantive enough to provide a definitive answer.