Too high to shoot, too low to cite: Colorado’s mystery drones are virtually untouchable, remain unclaimed despite global curiosity

Too high to shoot, too low to cite: Colorado’s mystery drones are virtually untouchable, remain unclaimed despite global curiosity

If we don't get answers before they disappear, we may never know

VicesJanuary 03, 2020 By Will Brendza

This article was updated on 1/9/20 with new information about the ongoing investigation into this bizzare mystery.

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The reports started coming in, in the weeks before Christmas and they puzzled local police. People in some of the most rural ranching regions of Colorado were calling in to describe huge, mysterious drones flying around in the night, in numbers and in precise formations like fighter jets.

The unmanned aircraft fly in grid search patterns, locals say; there are usually a lot of them (as many as 30 at once), they fly silently (very unlike most commercially available drones) and they have been sighted repeatedly and consistently since they first appeared. They’re flying too high to easily shoot down, too low to violate federal air space and close enough to the people below to raise suspiscion. And they can hover for well over an hour, some reports suggesting as long as 90-mintues. Police across the region are being inundated with reports of these things. 

No one knows where they came from, who is operating them or what they’re doing.

All we know, for sure, as of now, is that they’ve appeared in five different states including Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas and Wyoming and no one’s claimed them. Despite the fact that this strange story has made international news, caused local uproar and set the internet a’buzzing, no individual, no business or government agency has stepped up to take responsibility for these things.

Which, is the truly unnerving part of all this: If these drones were doing something innocuous, innocent and/or honest, someone would have likely come forward to put the mystery to bed; to ease people’s concerns and clear the air, so to speak.

But, so far, no one has. And that’s the part that’s freaking people out.

“That’s very unsettling to a lot of people,” Dawn George, a resident of Wray, Colorado, who has seen the drones hovering over her land and even her home, told the NY Times. “It’s the fear of the unknown.”

Suspects abound, but answers remain elusive…

Of course, in the face of a mystery like this, the internet exploded in a storm of theories and possible explanations: Maybe these drones are Air Force machines, running aerial tests; maybe they are running recon for Google or Amazon; maybe they are part of some kind of climate science research study, or an agricultural or geological survey; or drug cartels studying the layout of the land. 

Maybe they’re out there looking for escaped Area 51 inmates; extra-terrestrial fugitives the government needs to recapture…

However, police and journalists have both approached the likely suspects; asking businesses and government agencies about their involvement, if any. So far, not one of them has taken credit.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the Buckly Air Force Base, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have all denied any involvement or knowledge of these drones or their activities. And the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has even initiated a full investigation into the situation, involving ground operations, manned aircraft and drones of their own. 

Google, Amazon and Uber have likewise denied any involvement. So has Xcel Enegry, the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), and a whole host of drone survey companies local to the area (check out the full list of companies and organizations that have denied involvement here).

Area 51 has not yet commented on the situation, but it’s probably safe to assume we won’t hear anything from them.

So, none of the obvious suspects claim to be involved (unless the Air Force or someone else is lying to us, which, let’s face it, is totally possible). Who else could these drones belong to, then? What else could they be doing?

Now, I hate to venture into the realm of speculative journalism, but considering the strange and veiled nature of this mystery, I think it’s worth a trip there just to consider some of the possibilities. So, let’s ditch convention for a moment to throw around some “probably’s,” some “maybe’s” and some “likely’s” and get weird with some hypotheses.


Some logical assumptions, first…

  1. These drones are looking for something. Their numbers and flight patterns suggest that these are not just recreational drone flights. It’s most likely either a survey or an outright search.
  2. They are being operated from somewhere near the area they are searching. Even the most advanced electric drones can only stay air-born for a number of minutes (the high end of commercial drone capabilities is 30 minutes - although these can hover for notably longer). That means that these things are probably being deployed from somewhere relatively near the area they’re flying in, and then returning to it (the longest range for a commercial drone is around 5 miles). On top of that, drones have a pretty limited range of operation: they can’t fly too far from the controller or they’ll lose their signal; and if theese are collecting data, they need to have a proximal mobile reciever, like a van or a truck, that they can relay their data to. Considering al that, it seems likely that whoever is flying these things is not too far from them when they’re air-born.
  3. These drones are expensive. A cursory Google search of commercially available drones of the reported size (with a 6-foot wingspan) shows MSRP for something like this starts at around $1000 a pop, and can go well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And these drones are significantly more advanced than those that are commercially available to the public; they are large, they fly silently and they are outfitted with some kind of data collection technology. This operation, whatever its purpose, is no doubt an expensive one.
  4. Which also means, that this is a potentially very lucrative project. People don’t invest big sums of time and money into something like this, and put so much effort into keeping it veiled in secrecy, unless there’s something big to gain from it (like an oil reserve, or a natural gas pocket, or a gold vein). Or, alternatively, unless there is a lot at stake; a lot to lose if you aren’t the first person to get to the thing you’re looking for, whatever it is.
  5. There are a lot of these drones. With as many sightings as there have been, over such a widespread area (four, possibly even five states) there could be hundreds of these things. 
  6. Whoever is operating these drones does not want them to be seen or photographed. Why only fly your drones at night, otherwise? If the operator of these drones wasn’t concerned about photographic and video proof of their project, they probably wouldn’t be so selective with their hours of operation. So far, there is only one viable video of these things, and it’s not great.

Let’s imagine that they belong to an individual…

If they belong to one person, it is someone with significant financial means. As mentioned, these are not cheap vehicles. It doesn’t make sense for this to be the work of some amateur filmmaker or simple drone enthusiast.

So, if it’s an individual that’s responsible, they’re almost certainly rich as hell and they’re almost certainly after something. Which conjures up images of some kind of James Bond villain, with their own self-operated pilotless air force, patrolling the skies and scanning the Earth for… what?

That’s the real question. It could be a lost pet or an escaped sex slave, they’re looking for. It could be a rare species of animal rumored to live in the area. It could be anything — we simply haven’t a clue yet.

Let’s imagine that they belong to a business entity of some kind…

Alternatively, if they belong to a business entity and are part of some commercial operation (which seems more likely) then there has to be more than one person who knows what these drones are up to, and who they belong to.

And, here’s the thing about secrets: The more people that are involved in them, the harder they are to keep. Especially considering how high-profile this mystery has become. If there was a big team working on this, the chances of a leak or whistleblower emerging are relatively high. A business involved in some kind of clandestine operation would probably recognize this, and put just a very few, hand-selected, highly-trusted employees on the project.

It would also suggest that the drones are doing something in the name of capital gain. They aren’t searching for livestock, runaway aliens or escaped sex slaves, they’re looking for a resource to exploit.

Some people have suggested that it's the cartels, surveying the land, and picking out routes of transport, potential grow areas or hideouts. But this seems like a very high-profile way to go about something like that, and I'm not convinced that drug cartels would be so bold. It seems more realistic, if it is a company, that it's a domestic one that just wants their search operation to be a very private one. 

Conspiracy…

There is another possibility, and it’s just as disconcerting as the rest of these possibilities (so, grab your tin foil hats, ladies and gentlemen).

Almost simultaneously, as this drone mystery appeared in local, national and international news, so did an FAA rule change that would allow law enforcement, federal security agencies and the FAA to remotely identify all drones in their airspace via radio signals. They say it’s a measure to prevent the kind of drone haunting that’s going on in Colorado, right now — but this measure is not a new one — it’s not a reaction to the issue. It’s been in the works for well-over a year, now, and it’s something the FAA needs public approval of to initiate.

Prior to this drone mystery, there wouldn’t have been much public input or commentary at all on this particular subject. But, now… well, now people all over the nation will have something to say about it. People who don’t want mysterious drones hovering in some legal grey area over their homes and property will undoubtedly voice their opinions on this, and loudly.

Could they be government drones sent out to push an agenda? Could these be federal stealth drones sent to strike fear and anxiety into the hearts of The People in order to get drone regulations passed? Is that why no one can prove who they belong to or what they’re doing?

Of course, it’s possible, but there’s no knowing. Not until someone steps up and admits that the drones are theirs.

OR, until someone gets their hands on one of these things.

Is this the beginning of Red Dawn?

It's not impossible that these drones belong to a foreign government, either. Is it the Russians or the Chinese? Or, god-forbid, the North Koreans?! 

Could be. After all, our government certainly doesn't seem to have a clue who they belong to. The FAA is out there searching for box-trucks that might be serving as a mobile data-reciever; they're using silent drones and manned aircraft of their own to pursue and investigate these things; they have advanced government technology and massive resources at their fingertips. And still they're scratching their heads. 

Has the invasion begun? Are the enemies already hovering above us, prepping for the next steps? Are Ruskies going to start falling from the sky and putting people into concentratrion camps across the Front Range? 

It seems unlikely, but one never knows. When comes to how and where WWIII is going to start, it's anybody's guess. But, I suppose, Colorado is as good a place as any. 

Shoot 'em down

Local police and mainstream media outlets have repeatedly advised against shooting at these drones. They say that the drones are not technically breaking any laws, and that in fact, the act of shooting a drone down is illegal in and of itself. So don’t do it, they say, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.

However, here at Rooster, we have a different take on things. In the humble opinion of this writer, someone needs to shoot one of these fucking things out of the sky and get some answers. Yes, they are flying pretty high, and it would take a good shot in the dark to down one. But it’s not impossible. And if the rural ranching residents of north-eastern Colorado start using these drones as nighttime target practice, we might just be able to get our hands on one of them.

There are several things to keep in mind, though, should someone out there decide to take it upon themselves to solve this mystery once and for all: First, if you shoot a drone down, make sure it isn’t above anyone or anything that it could hurt or damage.

Second, these drones, as large as they are, are probably outfitted with a tracking device of some kind. If you kill one, and bring it home, you might have someone knocking at your door before too long. And more than likely, they will have a lawsuit or an arrest warrant with them for you.  

Still, despite the financial and legal consequences, you’d instantly become internationally famous for the act. You’d probably earn a dope media nickname like “Drone Killer” and people would be eternally grateful to you for solving such a gripping mystery. It might cost you your record and your savings, but it would also immortalize you as a hero of The People.

Still in the dark  

It has been repeated often since this began back in December, that the drones do not seem to be up to anything malicious. And that’s true. They’re just flying around, looking like they’re looking for something. It’s not illegal and they’re not harming anyone.

But here’s the fear: what if, one day, before we get any answers about these things, they simply disappear without a trace? What if they find what they were looking for before anyone knows anything about them, and they vanish never to be seen or heard from again?

That would not only be dissatisfying, but very disconcerting. We need answers, we need to find out what these things are up to and who is operating them before they vanish into the mysterious fog they emerged from.

The clock is ticking.