Colorado Drone Panic Grows As Skepticism Takes Flight

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Police are no closer to finding out why a swarm of drones keeps allegedly appearing over Colorado and Nebraska despite ramped-up efforts, leading some pundits to question if the mystery is even real.

The hubbub took flight over Christmas when Colorado residents and police reported at least 17 fixed-wing drones traveling in what appeared to be a steady pattern over several northeastern counties. The sightings later extended to more Colorado counties as well as neighboring Nebraska.

A multi-agency task force formed to further probe the sightings, meeting on Jan. 6 with representatives from more than 70 local, state, federal and military agencies.


Last week, the Colorado Department of Public Safety announced the deployment of ground-based teams and aircraft to further investigate the aerial mystery. The announcement came following a report that a drone flew about 100 feet below a medical helicopter.

Pilots reported the object was round, white and two feet in diameter. It seems unlikely this sighting has anything to do with the mysterious drones previously reported. Police had stated the aircraft they saw had a six-foot wingspan. If what the helicopter pilots sighted was a drone, it seems more likely to have been a multi-rotor aircraft.

On Wednesday, Phillips County (Colo.) Sheriff Tom Elliott walked back an earlier statement he made a few days earlier after stating his department was searching for a “command vehicle … a closed box trailer with antennas or a large van that does not belong in the area.”

The department’s latest Facebook post states: “The Phillips County Sheriff’s Office is not the task force and our jurisdiction does not extend past Phillips County Colorado. We will no longer be making any statements or press releases about the drone incidents.”

Rising Skepticism

“[The Colorado Drone mystery] … argle bargle, or fooforaw?”
– Kent Brockman, Fictional Journalist, Springfield, USA (paraphrased).

Vice journalist Aaron Gordon reports some experts are starting to question if the sightings are real:

“A seemingly minor detail lacking from these reports is that there’s precious little evidence these drones actually exist. That’s not to say this is some hoax or all the eyewitness accounts are wrong. … But this lack of evidence has not been lost on drone hobbyists and advocates. They have seen this play before.”

A 2015 analysis by the Academy of Model Aeronautics shows how often reports of drone “near misses” with aircraft – as well as alleged drone sightings – turn out to be inaccurate.

The AMA report found that only about 3.5 percent — or 27 out of the 764 records — were “identified with explicit notations as a near miss or near mid-air collision.”

“Some sightings appear to involve people flying responsibly and within the FAA’s current recreational guidelines … many things in the air – from balloons and birds to model rockets and mini blimps – are mistaken for, or reported as, drone sightings even when they are not.”

In an interview with Motherboard, DJI spokesman Adam Lisberg agreed:

“From our perspective, this illustrates why you should take concerns about drones with a real big grain of salt. Because who knows what you’re really seeing? Without an independent confirmation or measurement, it’s a lousy way to try and make policy on how drones should be identified.”

It should also be noted that some reports indicate what would appear to be a larger fixed-wing drone, while others depict a smaller quadcopter. And the mass media is not helping matters – in fact, following the first reports by police of a fixed-wing drone, most media reports illustrated their articles with stock photos of rotor drones. #TheMoreYouKnow


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