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Thread: A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado

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    Default A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado


    A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado

    Large groups of drones are flying grid pattern routes over the region at night and nobody knows who they belong to or what they're doing

    December 26, 2019

    The sparse expanses of Northeast Colorado have become ground zero for a bizarre mystery surrounding sightings of nighttime coordinated flights of groups of drones. From roughly 7 pm to 10 pm every night last week, an estimated 17 drones with six-foot spans have flown "grid patterns" over Phillips County and near its border with neighboring Yuma County, according to Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott. The drones operate at a few hundred feet in the air and were brightly lit with strobing colored and white lights, leaving local residents and those driving through the area baffled.

    TheDenver Post was first to report on the string of strange sightings. Local law enforcement, the FAA, DEA, U.S. Army, and the Air Force have said they have no idea what these aircraft are or who they belong to.

    The Denver Post writes:

    The sheriff’s office can’t explain where the drones are coming from or who is flying them. The estimated size and number of drones makes it unlikely that they’re being flown by hobbyists, Undersheriff William Myers said.

    ...

    On Friday, Myers said he watched eight of the large drones flying along the Yuma County border near the intersection of U.S. 385 and County Road 54. At the same time, a single drone hovered about 25 miles away over the town of Paoli — it didn’t move all night, just hovered over the town — and eight more drones flew over Haxtun, about 10 miles down the road from Paoli, Myers said.

    “Overhead they were probably doing 30, 40 mph,” he said. “They weren’t racing or flying around with speed.”

    One resident who spotted a drone last week gave chase, Elliott said, driving behind it at about 50 mph, but lost the drone when he ran out of gas in Washington County.

    The machines fly too high to be heard from the ground but can be seen by their strobing white lights along with red, blue and green lights, Myers said.

    ...

    “The way Colorado law is written, none of the statutes fit for harassment or trespassing,” Myers said. “Colorado hasn’t gotten on board with identifying the airspace around your property as the actual premises, so we don’t have anything we could charge.”

    The FAA does have rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and requires such aircraft to be flown during daylight hours, within sight of the pilot, no higher than 400 feet above the ground, and not over people, among other rules. However, pilots can apply for and receive waivers from the FAA that exempts the pilots from many of those rules.

    It’s also not clear whether the drones over Phillips and Yuma counties would be governed by those regulations. A drone the size of the ones spotted over the counties likely would weigh more than 55 pounds, Moss said. That means the drone operator would be flying commercially and would likely need to be a “manned aviator” — an actual pilot, Moss said.

    ...

    Elliott said Monday that the sheriff’s office has received nine calls about the drones since last week. He said residents no longer need to call to report a simple sighting of the drones.

    “We just want to know if one lands, if we can get our hands on it, or if they see someone operating them, that’s what we’re looking for now,” he said. “We know they exist.”

    I think people will wonder why there is no video that we know of these sightings. Most amateur video shot of lights in the sky at night has very little value, but regardless, you have to remember that this is happening in very sparsely populated areas after dark. If it was occurring near an urban area, I think the lack of video would be a bit troubling, but in this case, I don't find it to be, especially considering the level of law enforcement knowledge of these events.

    People seeing lights in the sky that they don't understand the origin of happens often, but this case seems far more consistent over a short timespan than something that could be easily blown off. Once again, the fact that law enforcement is well aware of it and discussing it as fact is also telling. This all begs the question, what is going on in this remote section of Colorado?

    Based strictly on the descriptions conveyed, it sounds like someone or some group is testing a broad-area surveillance capability with lower-end autonomous drones. This could include something as simple as having a group fly a series of planned routes and return with the information gathered via autopilot. By doing so, a group of small, relatively inexpensive drones can cover a large area quickly instead of single, far more expensive assets that could take more time and offer less redundancy. Such a capability could be used for search and rescue, mapping, and general intelligence gathering. This also doesn't require man-in-the-loop control that would necessitate line-of-sight connectivity. Still, it is really flat terrain with endless farmland in the area where the sightings occurred, which means line-of-sight connectivity could be maximized, especially with the help of a large aerial or small tower, but the grid pattern nature of these flights that the Sheriff describes point to a coordinated and automated flight plan for the drones.

    The airspace where this is occurring is peculiarly desolate, as well, making it ideally suited for such a task, but the flights are not legally occurring, which makes the whole affair quite suspicious. The fact that the activity is happening after sundown is even more intriguing and adds to the notion that whoever is doing this knows it is outside the bounds of FAA regulations.

    In addition, it would be very challenging to trace these aircraft back to their place of origin or point of flight termination. The drones could fly the majority of their missions with lights on and turn them off during launch and recovery. With very little ambient light, they would be all but undetectable to the naked eye. Also, remember that drones this size can takeoff from very small areas, so it's not like a runway is needed or anything like that. As such, they can originate from nearly anywhere.


    This is basically the area where the sightings are occurring. It's largely uncontrolled airspace with a very sparse population.


    Here you can see the relationship of the area of activity in relation to Denver and nearby Nebraska.

    The reality is that an individual or small group with some resources can do this. It doesn't need to be a federal agency, the military, or some defense or aviation contractor. Although it all sounds relatively innocuous, it is possibly yet another sign of the potential threats small, commercially available unmanned aircraft pose. If the grid pattern reports are accurate and autonomous waypoint navigation is being used by these drones, it can be posited that similar basic concepts of operation were used in the game-changing attack on Saudi oil facilities in September. Furthermore, drones of this size can carry a relevant payload of deadly explosives instead of surveillance or electronic warfare gear. 17 drones flying at once that can surveil a broad area could be re-roled by a nefarious actor to strike 17 pinpoint fixed targets near-simultaneously, or swarm against a single high value one from multiple directions.

    This is the same drum I have been beating for years, and eventually, this threat will materialize in the continental United States as it has overseas. With that in mind, this type of event—which we will only see more of in the future—shouldn't be treated as just some interesting curiosity. There is no need to panic, but the mystery behind these aircraft should be solved and whoever is doing it should receive some sort of penalty for executing these types of operations outside of FAA regulations, even if there isn't a dark agenda behind the activity.

    Some will say this is an overreaction, but those are probably the same people that laughed when some of us started warning of the potential threat of small drones being used unlawfully and for very negative purposes years ago.

    Regardless, a skyborne mystery is afoot in Colorado. It will be interesting to see if the flights continue and if the description of these sightings holds up.

    We will keep you updated as we find out more about these strange events.

    Update: 4:45pm PST—


    It is worth noting that not far where these drones were sighted, F.E. Warren Air Force Base's intercontinental ballistic missile fields begin. Roughly 30 miles northwest of Haxtun. It is something to at least keep in mind as the story unfolds.


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    Default Re: A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado


    Mysterious Drones Flying Nighttime Patterns Over Northeast Colorado Leave Local Law Enforcement Stumped

    Phillips County sheriff says there are at least 17 of the aircraft that fly between 7 and 10 p.m. nightly

    December 23, 2019

    A band of large drones appears to be flying nighttime search patterns over northeast Colorado — and local authorities say they don’t know who’s behind the mysterious aircraft.

    The drones, estimated to have six-foot wingspans, have been flying over Phillips and Yuma counties every night for about the last week, Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliott said Monday.

    The drones stay about 200 feet to 300 feet in the air and fly steadily in squares of about 25 miles, he said. There are at least 17 drones; they emerge each night around 7 p.m. and disappear around 10 p.m., he said.

    “They’ve been doing a grid search, a grid pattern,” he said. “They fly one square and then they fly another square.”

    The sheriff’s office can’t explain where the drones are coming from or who is flying them. The estimated size and number of drones makes it unlikely that they’re being flown by hobbyists, Undersheriff William Myers said.

    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.

    A spokesman for the Drug Enforcement Administration told The Denver Post on Monday that the drones aren’t operated by the agency. A spokesman for the FAA said that agency likely has no information on them. Drone pilots aren’t required to file flight plans, unless they’re flying in controlled airspace, like near an airport.

    Officials with the Air Force and the Department of Defense did not immediately return The Post’s requests for comment on the mystery aircraft Monday. U.S. Army Forces Command spokesman John Boyce said Monday he was not aware of any training involving military drones in that area.

    “Do not seem to be malicious”

    On Friday, Myers said he watched eight of the large drones flying along the Yuma County border near the intersection of U.S. 385 and County Road 54. At the same time, a single drone hovered about 25 miles away over the town of Paoli — it didn’t move all night, just hovered over the town — and eight more drones flew over Haxtun, about 10 miles down the road from Paoli, Myers said.

    “Overhead they were probably doing 30, 40 mph,” he said. “They weren’t racing or flying around with speed.”

    One resident who spotted a drone last week gave chase, Elliott said, driving behind it at about 50 mph, but lost the drone when he ran out of gas in Washington County.

    The machines fly too high to be heard from the ground but can be seen by their strobing white lights along with red, blue and green lights, Myers said.

    Myers suspects the drones might be operated by a private company, although the machines haven’t targeted any obvious landmarks or features — sometimes they fly over towns, other times over empty fields.

    “They do not seem to be malicious,” Elliott said. “They don’t seem to be doing anything that would indicate criminal activity.”

    Vic Moss, a Denver-based commercial photographer, drone pilot and co-owner of an online drone school called Drone U, said Monday he’d bet either a company or a government agency is flying the aircraft.

    “We have a number of drone companies here in Colorado, and they’re very innovative,” he said. “So maybe they’re testing something of theirs out in that area because it is very rural. But everyone that I know of, they coordinate all that stuff with local authorities to prevent this very situation. They all very much want people to understand drones and not cause this kind of hysteria.”

    The grid pattern suggests the drone operators might be creating a map or carrying out a search, Moss said, although he added that some drone operators will fly at night in order to use infrared cameras, which are sometimes used in agriculture to examine crops.

    He urged people not to try to shoot the drones down, both because their batteries can cause intense fires and also because shooting a drone is a federal crime.

    “It becomes a self-generating fire that burns until it burns itself out,” he said. “If you shoot a drone down over your house and it lands on your house, you might not have a house in 45 minutes.”

    Even if the sheriff’s office identified the pilot or pilots of the drones, they’re likely not breaking any laws, Myers said.

    “The way Colorado law is written, none of the statutes fit for harassment or trespassing,” Myers said. “Colorado hasn’t gotten on board with identifying the airspace around your property as the actual premises, so we don’t have anything we could charge.”
    “We know they exist”

    The FAA does have rules for drones that weigh less than 55 pounds and requires such aircraft to be flown during daylight hours, within sight of the pilot, no higher than 400 feet above the ground, and not over people, among other rules. However, pilots can apply for and receive waivers from the FAA that exempts the pilots from many of those rules.

    It’s also not clear whether the drones over Phillips and Yuma counties would be governed by those regulations. A drone the size of the ones spotted over the counties likely would weigh more than 55 pounds, Moss said. That means the drone operator would be flying commercially and would likely need to be a “manned aviator” — an actual pilot, Moss said.

    Chuck Adams, CEO of 1Up Aerial Drone Services in Golden, said that he wasn’t sure who might be flying the drones, but said his company does offer “drone defense” systems that can help people on the ground discover where drones are being flown from.

    “It’s something we put up with radio frequency and acoustics, and you can tell where the operator is and where the drones are,” he said. “We can’t take them out of the sky, but we can give awareness.”

    Elliott said Monday that the sheriff’s office has received nine calls about the drones since last week. He said residents no longer need to call to report a simple sighting of the drones.

    “We just want to know if one lands, if we can get our hands on it, or if they see someone operating them, that’s what we’re looking for now,” he said. “We know they exist.”

    He added that there is one culprit he can certainly rule out as the drone operator, even though it’s the week before Christmas.

    “It’s not Santa or his reindeer,” he said.

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    Default Re: A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado


    Gardner: FAA Launching 'Full Investigation' Into Mystery Colorado Drones

    The FAA said multiple divisions and government agencies are investigating the reports of drones flying over northeastern Colorado.

    December 31, 2019

    Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) said he’s been in contact with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and they’ve opened a “full investigation” into the mystery drones that have been spotted flying over a large swath of northeastern Colorado in recent weeks.

    That’s according to a news release distributed by Gardner’s office Tuesday.

    “I’ve been in contact with the FAA and I’m encouraged that they’ve opened a full investigation to learn the source and purpose of the drones,” a statement from Gardner reads. “I will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

    In an email, FAA spokesperson Ian Gregor confirmed “multiple FAA divisions and government agencies are investigating” the reports.

    The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office first discussed the drones on Facebook on Dec. 20, saying it followed 16 unmanned aircraft into Yuma County.

    “We believe that the drones, though startling, are not malicious in nature,” the Sheriff’s Office said at the time.

    Since then, the drones have been seen in Washington, Yuma, Lincoln, Phillips and Logan counties.

    The Washington County sheriff said they were flying in a “grid pattern.” Witnesses have said there were multiple drones in the air at a time.

    9NEWS has contacted numerous private companies and government agencies – everyone from Uber to Google to Amazon to the U.S. Geological Survey — so far, all have said they aren’t responsible for the drones.

    The aircraft have been spotted at night – something that requires a special FAA waiver if they belong to a commercial entity.

    When asked whether the FAA considers the drones malicious and what other agencies are potentially involved in the probe into Colorado’s drones, Gregor wrote “we don’t comment on open investigations.”

    For what it's worth, shooting down one of the drones is a federal crime that could carry up to 20 years in prison, according to Attorney Patti Arthur.

    "So, it wouldn't be real wise even if you were law enforcement to shoot these things down," Arthur said. "... Just because people don't know what it is, doesn't make a lot of sense to go shoot something down because they're afraid of it or curious.

    She said it's possible the drones belong to a legitimate company that had leased a field, or that there's secrecy involved because "the technology is very high intellectual property."

    "There's a lot of players in the field, and they've got some advanced technology that I imagine they'd like to be rather secret and quiet about it," Arthur said.

    Inside her home, north of Otis and Akron, Haley Harms is organizing a team of people to keep track of the mystery drones.

    Their goal? Map where and when the drones appear to try to predict what they’re doing and where they’ll be next.

    "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," said Harms. "It’s curious that no one seems to know why or who or what. When no one knows anything, it makes you feel more an more uncomfortable."

    The town is buzzing with new reports of drone sightings every night. Facebook pages created specifically for this have taken off.

    "I’ve got a guy between Otis and Yuma who said two were there again last night. He’s had sightings two nights in a row," said Harms. "This is definitely not a normal day in the neighborhood."

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    Default Re: A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado

    Military assets gearing up for ME?

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    like overripe fruit into our hands."



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    Default Re: A Big And Bizarre Drone Mystery Is Unfolding In Rural Colorado

    Quote Originally Posted by vector7 View Post
    Military assets gearing up for ME?
    Supposedly it started before Christmas so not super likely.

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