Are they a national security threat or simply a prankster having a little fun? Whatever it is, it’s baffling local authorities in both Phillips and Yuma counties, in northeast Colorado dealing with what appears to be a squadron of drones performing nighttime maneuvers that thus far seems to have no known purpose.
The drones, 17 in all, appeared recently last week flying over Phillips and Yuma counties, between 7 to 10 p.m. in what appears to be “mapping operation.”
According to Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliot, the drones fly between 200 and 300 feet above the ground slowly mapping out a square pattern of about 25 miles, usually cursing between 50 or 65 kilometers per hour.
“They’ve been doing a grid search, a grid pattern. They fly one square and then they fly another square,” Elliott told local reporters.
The Sheriff estimates that the drones each have an estimated wingspan of about 1.8 meters, which in layman term measures roughly 6-feet.
So far no one can explain where the drones are coming from or perhaps even more worrisome who’s flying them and what their intentions are. However one thing is sure, according to Under-sheriff William Myers, it’s unlikely the drones are being flown by hobbyists.
The Federal Aviation Administration told the sheriff’s office that it had no information on the drones, and the U.S. Air Force said the aircraft aren’t theirs, Elliott said.
The Sheriff also acknowledged that many local residents are concerned, especially seeing these drones creepily hovering over towns or empty fields for hours, with their distinctive strobe lights pulsating white, red, blue, and green.
U.S. Federal regulations standards concerning drones, mandates “drones weighing less than 55 pounds (24 kg) must be flown during daylight hours, within sight of the pilot, and keep below 400 feet (120 meters) above the ground.” Based on the wingspan the drones appear to easily exceed that weight limit. Although thus far they haven’t flown over any “restricted airspace.”
There are also additional federal regulations concerning “restricted airspaces” regarding airports, government facilities and certain emergency sites, which are strictly off-limits.
“They do not seem to be malicious,” Elliott said. “They don’t seem to be doing anything that would indicate criminal activity.”
Currently, U.S. drone pilots aren’t required to broadcast their drone’s position or who is pulling its strings, but that could change with new regulations recently purposed by the FAA.
So far the feds are staying out of this baffling mystery and leaving it up to local authorities in Colorado to figure out the nightly intrusions and the eerie pulsating lights.
However, regardless of what the FAA says, it’s noteworthy to point out what FBI Director Christopher Wray recently acknowledged concerning potential drone attacks, due to their widespread availability and ease of use.
Wray testified before a Senate committee hearing last year and told lawmakers that the threat of drones and other unmanned aircraft is “steadily escalating.”
“The FBI assesses that, given their retail availability, lack of verified identification requirement to procure, general ease of use, and prior use overseas, UAS will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering,” Wray said in written testimony to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, using an acronym for unmanned aircraft systems.
Wray added, “We have seen repeated and dedicated efforts to use UAS as weapons, not only by terrorist organizations, such as ISIS and al Qaeda but also by transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13 and Mexican drug cartels, which may encourage the use of this technique in the U.S. to conduct attacks.”
While the mysterious drones appearing nightly over Colorado, may indeed be a simple prank, imagine what those 17 professionally built drones could do to a sleepy community if they were armed?