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Dancing in the Dark: Disappearing Drones and Confused Officials

Stories about drones in mysterious formations across Nebraska and Colorado have been flying around for days, but officials still don’t have any answers. “It baffles me. I don’t know why someone would be doing this for fun.”

(TNS) — The stories about mysterious drones flying around in Nebraska and Colorado sound like something straight out a science fiction movie.

By now, most of you have probably read or heard about the groups of unidentified drones spotted flying in grid-like formations at night. The sightings began in northeast Colorado. Soon, there were sightings in southwest Nebraska, then central Nebraska.

Law enforcement authorities are baffled. So is the Federal Aviation Administration.

The FAA has ruled out military and other government agencies as operators of these mystery drones, but no one has yet figured out who's flying them or what they're doing.

There have been no reported sightings in Siouxland. At least not yet.

That doesn't mean people who know a thing or two about drones aren't paying attention. They've got as many questions as the authorities in Nebraska and Colorado.

"It doesn't fit anything that seems to be normal," said Rich Crow, an assistant professor of applied agriculture and food studies at Morningside College who teaches a class on drone rules and regulations and another in which students learn how to fly, maintain and fix drones.

Theories abound about what the drones in Colorado and Nebraska are doing. Is it some kind of mapping or exploration? Practice for an air show?

"What catches my eye is they're doing it after dark," Crow said. "Obviously, they're not probably doing photography."

Drone pilots also need an FAA waiver to fly at night, which in itself is no easy task.

Woodbury County Sheriff's Sgt. Chris Jansen, one of two deputies and another reserve deputy who are licensed drone pilots, said he's flown a drone at night while looking for an injured person. He knows of no other logical reason other than a search and rescue mission to fly at night.

Besides, nighttime flying is hard.

"I wouldn't do that with my drone," Jansen said.

Any other reasons why anyone would be flying drones at night?

"I can't think of a valid reason myself," Jansen said. "It baffles me. I don't know why someone would be doing this for fun."

Crow and Jansen said there are restrictions on where people can fly drones, but enforcement is another matter. By the time a police officer can respond to a call, the drone pilot can easily have landed the craft and left the area. Anyone who decides to take matters into his or her own hands and shoot drones out of the sky are likely headed for legal trouble.

As is often the case with new technology, the laws and regulations pertaining to drones have some catching up to do.

"There's some stuff we need to iron out as far as privacy and ability to fly," Crow said. "Rules have a long way to go yet. We're still in that refining stage as far as the rule-making."

He likened it to the development of the automobile. Traffic laws weren't on the books when cars were invented. It took years for the laws to evolve into what they are now.

But, unlike a flying object that can be controlled from a distance, it was a lot easier to determine what someone in a car was doing back when autos were a new thing.

Sometime, maybe soon, the drone mystery will be solved, hopefully with a harmless explanation.

Until then, we're left to wonder and keep our eyes turned to the sky.

©2020 Sioux City Journal, Iowa. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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