The Baffling Case Of Colorado’s Mystery Drones

The Baffling Case Of Colorado’s Mystery Drones
Pictured: A drone deployed during a demonstration at the Los Angeles Fire Department ahead of DJI’s AirWorks September conference in Los Angeles. (Photo: Robyn Beck, Getty)

Local authorities are dumbfounded by a flock of drones that recently began performing nighttime flights over northeast Colorado with no apparent purpose or operators (at least, none they’ve been able to identify so far).  

Officials have spotted at least 17 drones flying over Phillips and Yuma counties for the last week, the Denver Post reported. They always come out between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m., according to Phillips County Sheriff Thomas Elliot, remaining about 200 to 300 feet (60 to 90 metres) in the air as they map out a square pattern. Rather slowly, I should add, as officials estimated these mystery drones were cruising at 50 or 65 kilometres per hour.

“They’ve been doing a grid search, a grid pattern. They fly one square and then they fly another square,” Elliott told the Post.

The drones—which Elliott estimates have about a 1.8 metre wingspan—have also been spotted creepily hovering over towns or empty fields for hours, identifiable by their distinctive strobing lights that flash white, red, blue, and green

So far, America’s DEA, the FAA, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Army Forces Command have all said they’re every bit as clueless as local officials about what these drones are doing and why.

U.S. Federal regulations mandate that 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 metres) above the ground. There are also additional rules for restricted airspaces, such as near an airport or over certain emergency sites. Based on their size, it would appear these mystery drones would exceed that weight limit, and officials said they weren’t flying in any restricted airspaces. Just being generally creepy.

“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 proposed by the FAA. However, these new FAA rules, which would require operators to broadcast this information via radio frequency or through the internet, are estimated to take at least three years to implement if approved, per a Bloomberg report. So, for the immediate future at least, Colorado officials are on their own solving this mystery behind these nighttime drone flights.  

With the timing of all this, Elliott joked that the sheriff’s office had ruled out Santa and his reindeer as a possible explanation. As the experienced tech reporter I am, I’d like to posit another entirely plausible theory: Aliens.