Editor’s Note: A number of media reports covering these sightings have included a stock photo of a quadcopter drone. This is an inaccurate depiction. The reports have stated the aircraft are fixed-wing.
A mysterious drone swarm first sighted in northeastern Colorado around Christmas is now being reported across state lines.
Last week, Colorado police reported at least 17 fixed-wing drones with a six-foot wingspan flying what appeared to be a steady pattern over several counties.
This week, the nightly drone sightings continued with sightings in more Colorado counties as well as neighboring Nebraska, causing mounting unrest for residents and law-enforcement agencies.
Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliot reports the drones are flying between 7-10 p.m. at an altitude of 200-300 feet with speeds estimated at 25-40 mph.
“These drones have made residents in our community very nervous and anxious,” Yuma County (Colo.) Todd Combs said in a Facebook post.
“I will tell you right up front, I do not have a lot of answers for you at this time. I wish I did, but I do not.”
The FAA has opened an investigation but have discovered few answers so far. Since the drones likely weigh more than 55 pounds, the pilots are either FAA certified and have commercial waivers, or they are flying illegally.
Combs said several agencies – including the FAA – will meet Monday to discuss the ongoing investigation.
“The Sheriff’s Office does not have jurisdiction in the airspace above our county,” Combs added. “As far as I can ascertain, the drones are abiding within [federal] guidelines.” He urged residents to submit any footage depicting the drones “doing anything illegal, reckless or flying real close to you.”
Across social media and news coverage, police are urging distraught residents to not go vigilante on the drones.
“I have been made aware of several comments about shooting down a drone,” Morgan County (Colo.), Sheriff Dave Martin said. “I ask that you not do this as it is a federal crime.”
Some locals are organizing drone watching teams to keep an eye on the swarm.
“When you put on the landscape blinking lights and fleets of things doing patterns over my fields, that doesn’t make me comfortable at all,” Colorado resident Haley Harms told Denver’s 9 News.
“It’s curious that no one seems to know why or who or what.”
The aerial kerfuffle has taken flight at a curious time in the timeline of federal drone regulation.
On Dec. 26, the FAA announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to establish a requirement that all drones carry a “Remote ID.”
“This proposal establishes design and production requirements for two categories of remote identification: standard remote identification UAS and limited remote identification UAS. Standard remote identification UAS would be required to broadcast identification and location information directly from the unmanned aircraft and simultaneously transmit that same information to a Remote ID [a network of Remote ID UAS Service Suppliers] through an Internet connection. Limited remote identification UAS would be required to transmit information through the Internet only, with no broadcast requirements; however, the unmanned aircraft would be designed to operate no more than 400 feet from the control station.”
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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