Ag Policy Blog

Suspicious Night Drones Raise Concerns in Colorado and Nebraska

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, are becoming more popular in agriculture. But some suspicious drones have been flying lately at night over parts of northeastern Colorado and western Nebraska. The FAA just proposed a rule that would require all drones to emit an identifying signal when flying. (DTN file photo)

So 2019 ends and 2020 begins with a weird story out of eastern Colorado and western Nebraska.

People across the region are reporting and filming unexplained sightings of drones flying around the area.

According to reports from the Denver Post, CNN and the New York Times, county deputies have spotted at least 16 unmanned drones buzzing northeast Colorado over the past month as other witnesses have reported dozens of sightings. With government agencies and companies claiming they are not responsible, local authorities and the Federal Aviation Administration are now investigating the situation.

The Denver Post first reported the mysterious drones on Dec. 23, and followed up New Year's Eve. The first article cited that the drones fly about 200 to 300 feet off the ground and fly in squares around areas about 25 miles. The fly each night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., according to the Phillips County (Colo.) Sheriff's Department, adjacent to the Nebraska border.

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who lives in Yuma in eastern Colorado, tweeted on Tuesday that he is monitoring the situation, the Denver Post reported.

Yuma County Sheriff Todd Combs issued a statement that local law enforcement and federal agencies have scheduled a Jan. 6 meeting about the drones. "Hopefully this meeting will provide some answers, or at least aid in the development of a plan to identify who is in control of the drones," the sheriff posted on a Facebook page.

Combs noted the drones are operating within federal guidelines, but are making residents "very nervous and anxious," CNN reported.

"People do not like the unknown as it upsets the balance of our lives," Combs wrote.

The drones are being reported at least two hours west of Yuma, near Palisade, Neb., according to a report in the New York Times. “It’s creepy,” said Missy Blackman, who saw three drones hovering over her farm outside Palisade, on a recent evening, including one that lingered right above her house. “I have a lot of questions of why and what are they, and nobody seems to have any answers.”

Perkins County, Neb., Sheriff James Bueggeman told the NYT he spotted the drones on Tuesday night. He's also heard people wanting to shoot the drones but he asked them to notify law enforcement. “I think it’s kind of a joke, but you have to remember the part of the country we live in,” the sheriff said. “People here don’t like their privacy to be invaded.”

The FAA just last week issued a new proposed rule for "Unmanned Aircraft Systems," aka, drones, that would require remote ID technology on new drones. The rule, which is 319 pages long, would essentially require all but the smallest drones to be able to be tracked while flying. Under the proposal, any drone just over half a pound would be required to emit a signal that would identify them.

An FAA spokesman told the NYT that the rule announced Dec. 26 was coincidental to the reports coming out of Colorado and Nebraska.

FAA until now has been requiring owners to register their drones. The FAA reports 160,000 registered drone pilots with nearly 1.5 million drones.

FAA news release on drone rule: https://www.faa.gov/…

Denver Post: Mysterious Drones Flying Nighttime Patterns: https://www.denverpost.com/…

NYT: Unexplained Drones are Swarming by Night Over Colorado https://www.nytimes.com/…

CNN: https://www.cnn.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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