Who was behind the massive drone swarms in Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska during late 2019-early 2020, and what was the purpose of their operations? And before you say that they were a hoax or mass hysteria, the evidence of this happening is pretty overwhelming.
It all began mid-December of 2019, when residents in a 200-mile area between western Nebraska and eastern Colorado began reporting seeing and photographing (so there was actual evidence) a large number of drones in the night sky. These weren’t any dollar-store retail specials, either. With 6-foot wingspans and 50 mph speeds, or so witnesses reported, they were far larger and faster than your typical recreational drone. The swarms, often including as many as 30 drones at once, were observed between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. each night, moving in synchronized grid patterns at roughly 200-300 AGL. It went on for weeks, eventually dipping into nearby Kansas. Then, as quickly as it began, it all stopped.
Local and federal authorities claimed ignorance, and an investigation by the FAA, FBI and U.S. Air Force task force yielded no suspects. Given the size of the drones and scope of their operations, it’s unlikely they were flying in a recreational capacity, meaning they would have been restricted by Part 107. Flying at night under Part 107 requires a waiver granted by the FAA. Additionally, the operator(s) would have also required a waiver from 107.31 (operating beyond visual line of sight) and possibly 107.35 (operation of multiple drones by a single pilot). They may have even needed a waiver to 107.51, excluding them from rules on speed and altitude.
If such waivers had been granted, the FAA would have them on file. Yet, allegedly, they had nothing. So, either someone was operating without proper authorization, or someone is telling lies.
Who Was Behind It?
Enter the usual suspects; the U.S. government, drug cartels and outer space aliens are all first in the lineup, though what their motives were is not at all clear. If aliens exist, their technology, or so the Navy seems to think, blows ours out of the water, so it’s safe to rule them out. Speculation about drug cartels took hold for a while, given their footprint in the area, but 30 or so large drones seems a bit outside the scope of what they need to conduct a profitable drug operation. Besides, for long-distance transport, drones make little sense, and, besides, flying in grids and in swarms only attracts attention, which is the last thing a cartel boss needs.
That leaves us with the government. Again, it’s denying involvement, which could just be the drone version of Area 51, or it might actually be in the dark about the matter.
Alternatively, the culprit could be a private company, one with lots of money to burn. One like Google, for example. According to an investigation by New York magazine, Google is a prime candidate. In 2010, the company started a secretive research and development facility known simply as “X.” Its goal was to untangle the world’s problems through innovative technology. Recently, X’s focus has been on the development of a drone delivery service, similar to Amazon’s. Perhaps Google wanted to test its products in a remote area under the cloak of darkness in order to avoid the prying eyes of its competition.
But Google, like other companies, denies involvement. And, again, if it was at work, it’s almost certain that it would have worked with the FAA to get the approvals it needed.
What Were They Doing?
Perhaps the biggest mystery is this: WTH were the drones doing? If mapping was the goal, conducting the flights during daylight would have yielded much better results. Perhaps someone was just out having fun, but repeatedly, in grids and secretively? Or perhaps, given the patterns being flown, someone was out there looking for something. A missing nuclear warhead, perhaps? The treasure of the Sierra Madre? Around the time of the swarms, a rumor had surfaced that a new Colonel of the 90th Missile Wing discovered a nuclear warhead missing from its inventory. Obviously, this rumor can’t be substantiated, but, if true, perhaps the drones were part of a military search-and-find mission. Conducting the flights at night would prevent solar radiation interference, making the drones more likely to locate their target. It’s not a bad theory.
The military claims ignorance, of course. The problem is, if it really wasn’t them, how could they possibly not know who it was instead? That remote midwestern landscape is heavily dotted with missile silos and other federal facilities. Surely those sites are all closely monitored.
For starters, it’s clear that the sightings were real. Reports were consistent from witness to witness—thousands of witnesses. Additionally, multiple news outlets investigated the swarms, conducting stakeouts and livestreaming videos for their broadcasts. While the FAA is now pushing a new rule that will better enable local and federal authorities to identify drone operators quickly, the culprit of these particular swarms will likely never be revealed.
Not without proper clearance, at least.