Drone Investigation Intensifies


FAA officials will meet with local law enforcement reps from about a dozen counties in northeastern Colorado to discuss unexplained drone activity that has alarmed local residents and public officials. So far, no one has come forward to give even the slightest hint of why the drones, described as being up to eight feet long, able to hover and fly at about 100 knots, are appearing in the evening sky every night. They often fly in groups but individual sightings have also been made and there have been reports they may be flying a grid search pattern. So far they haven’t exhibited any threatening behavior but that doesn’t do much to lessen concern. “These drones have made residents in our community very nervous and anxious. People do not like the unknown as it upsets the balance of our lives,” Yuma County Sheriff.

A group of aviation industry representatives went drone hunting last Friday and found their quarry near Brush in Morgan County. “We did get eyes on one about 200 to 300 feet above, and it was moving at about 100 knots,” Chris Swathwood, president of the Colorado Aviation Business Association, told KDVR. ”It was a large fixed wing aircraft. It was dark, and it had lights unlike any other manned aircraft would normally have.” Swathwood, who is a drone pilot, said the aircraft was sophisticated and expensive and far beyond the reach of hobbyists so the consensus reached by his group that they are operated by the military or their contractors. “Until someone comes forward, it’s all speculation,” Swathwood said.

Naturally that speculation is running rampant on social media and one of the clearing houses for sighting reports, theories and a fair amount of silliness is the Mystery Drone Swarm Chasers Facebook group. It now has more than 6,000 members and posters have speculated everything from a search for inmates from a prison break to secret artificial intelligence operations to log the movements of rural residents. There have been more than a few suggestions that someone shoot a drone down and reports that some drone hunters have been chasing the mystery drones with their hobby aircraft.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “…reports that some drone hunters have been chasing the mystery drones with their hobby aircraft.”

    With their 100 kts + hobby aircraft?

    Hmmnnn…. Let’s see…..
    8 feet long. Fixed wing, but able to hover. Capable of flight at 100 kts.

    Has anybody contacted Uber?

  2. So now the drones are eight feet long and fly at about 100 knots?
    It sounds like just another side effect of legalization in that state.

  3. It’s probably got something to do with that secret underground area that’s now part of the Denver airport but off limits to all but little green guys. They have that crazy mural on the wall that is something like hieroglyphics too so … who knows.

  4. Alright, I’ll come forward and end the speculation. This is the truth, because it’s on the Internet!

    Trumps new Space Cadets get basic, albeit very secret military flight training in stealth type black planes (Rotax powered) before they get sent to Starship Exile T. Why not just report the truth and continue with these constipation causing conspiracy theories. Heck people, we’ve landed on the moon – we’re going to be capable of figuring out who’s flying around out there and explain it to people?

    And before I forget: Mr. Swathwood is NO drone-pilot. He might be a pilot and capable of OPERATING a drone, but there is no such thing as a Drone Pilot! Just reading the words DRONE and PILOT in one sentence makes me itch and feel the urge to inhale more of that greenish glue.

    • How do you know there are no drone pilots, Jason. An eight foot long drone would be large enough for a little green guy to ride along for a test ride. They must be like vampires because they’re always doing this stuff at night?

      Thankfully, this’ll all end once FAA’s new “ADS-B ‘lite’ ” for drones is codified. At that point, Flight Aware will know what’s happening.

  5. Another classic case of mass hysteria. Next thing you know people will be claiming to have been taken aboard the strange craft and “examined”. How would Swathwood know what is beyond the level of sophistication of hobbyists? Besides, lots of racing drones are capable of speeds well in excess of 100 kts. Strange lights? Hang a few LEDs on the sides and you can make all sorts of light shows. My bet is a group of college students with some homemade drones is having some fun. Unfortunately this is just going to reinforce the FAA’s overreach on tracking every drone and its control transmitter.

    • The mass hysteria is real and the media is adding to it and creating a danger to manned flight operations in the area. I have already asked KDVR to correct their story as they combined two different things I said to make it appear as if we actually saw one. In the interview I spoke to them about a group of manned pilots, and drone operators that went out to see what people and local officials are seeing in the night as well as the report we received from a commercial drone operator on what he observed in Nebraska at 200-300 feet.

      Personally was interested see what people are seeing, as pilots continue to be blinded by high intensity white lights and Facebook groups have formed calling to shoot down suspected UAV’s. Some of us in the pilot community in Colorado have serious concerns about the safety of our manned aircraft operation in the Northeastern region of the state, including air medical, and even student pilots from the front range that often use the northeast airports for initial solo cross country training as I did 20 years ago.

      What was not mentioned that I spoke about in the interview is that 99.9% of everything we saw that night could be explained as an aircraft by visual observation or through my ADS-B linked to Foreflight. The urging the drone operator responsible to come forward, or stressing the importance that not only is shooting at or shinning high intensity lights at aircraft of any kind illegal, but the continued misidentification of manned aircraft as drones is presenting a clear risk to manned flight operations in the region. I guess safety of pilots is not part of their agenda.

      AVweb if you want the truth and not the mainstream media hysteria spin on the issues in the Northeastern plains of Colorado then I would be happy to speak further on that.

  6. If Chris S can give an explanation for 99.9% from his tablet and Foreflight for what he and some cohorts saw, why then is the FAA, the Colorado/Nebraska state officials, local police, the military, and the FED’s scratching their collective heads?

    I don’t doubt Chris S has his explanation for his night flight investigation. But are these the same formation or swarm of UFD’s that were reported initially and continually, or are what he saw normal aviation activities for that region? I would have questions if my tablet saw a swarm or formation of ADS-B equipped airplanes out in the hinterlands doing some sort of formation/swarm flying. In addition, I know, as well as he, that instructors do not send up students for cross country night flights, certainly not a formation of them.

    Maybe a bunch of novice pilots at night might look like a swarm, but all of that flight activity in real GA airplanes would not be easily confused with drones. Certainly, I cannot think of any reason of flying low at night in any airplane until in the pattern. Secondly, most reports state these UFD’s do not mimic airplane flight. Even the police has corroborated that with their views of the same or similar drones. With all the national attention, I can see more nitwits with drones adding odd LED lighting, flying low, and adding to the confusion with copy cat flights for more viral view attempts.

    If I were a pilot with LED strobes, wig-wag lights, flashing nav lights, and any other lighting adornments, I probably think twice about a night flight in that area till this issue is resolved. There are plenty of people looking for an excuse to pull the trigger. But most witnesses seem to understand the difference between a full scale airplane and something with an 8 foot span. Plus, a Husky, or a Super Cub, 150, or any other 100kt airplane at 2-300 ft distances is far from silent ( especially a swarm or formation of 6-12 of them) and certainly not particularly maneuverable to fool someone into thinking it is Buck Rogers, Mothra, or a flying Creature from the Black Lagoon.

    There is an explanation for all this. But until the folks participating fess up, run into each other, get shot down, or get caught someway somehow, this phenomenon will continue to grow. There seems a special allure to causing nightly mischief, mass hysteria, and not getting caught all the while thumbing their noses at the government, military, police, the FAA, public, and the news media.

  7. Mr. Swathwood, thanks for coming forward here. I am relatively sure that Russ or Paul have already reached out to you on this topic. Not only would this present a perfect opportunity to correct the record, it also provides the opportunity to shine a light at various cancerous and obviously mentally challenged cells threatening to open fire on flying objects. I can see the risk of some sort of self-declared Jack Bauer’s, basically a group of full fledged idiots suffering from emotional distress or operating under the influence of mind-altering “medication”, trying to rescue planet earth from alien invasions.

    Investigation should be in the hands of law enforcement, the FAA and quite possibly authorities tasked with preventing domestic terrorism, not any local smear- rag reporters. I knew that drones in the wrong hands represent a tremendous risk for manned aviation – however so far, my fears always footed on mid-air collisions, not a bunch of morons seeking to find reasons to fire guns at anything that flies.

    We are talking federal offense: 18 U.S. Code § 32.

    Paranoia is often connected to other mental issues – not a new or unfamiliar problem in today’s society. I would sincerely advise against firing anything towards or even in the general direction of any unidentified flying object. Stuff like this can go sideways in a big hurry and supposedly, modern alien vehicles may have invisible protective shielding against earthling ammunition. Retaliatory acts may prove to be severely unhealthy, possibly deadly.

    This could well be a well orchestrated effort to create a high risk environment for general and business aviation in the area, put on by people seeking to have peace and tranquility restored in the skies above them. If there is credible threat of being fired upon in certain geographical areas in the land of the free, its prudent to have NOTAMs published and law enforcement in place and on high alert, to help prevent unsuspecting pilots and passengers from being shot at.

    • Silly us … we all shoulda remembered that “they” DO have shields and other ways of protecting themselves from the last time they showed up in 1951:


  8. Some years ago near PHX there were “sightings” of UFO’s to the west of the city. Of course if the Sighter would have spent a few minutes watching the lights said sighter would have noticed that the lights all followed a predictable path ending up at PHX. Closer observation would have revealed that the “mysterious” lights were actually scheduled airline flights arriving from SoCal or wherever, all lining up for about 60 miles west of PHX.

    Amazing what a little edjumacation can do to hysteria.