Drones Christi Cooley January 2019

There are two drones in this photo, taken the weekend of Jan 4-5, 2020 in Broken Bow, Neb. One is near center (the bluish spot of light) and the other is on the left, in the branches (a round whitish spot).

I may be the only person in Custer County, Neb., who, as of Tuesday, hadn’t yet seen the drones. However, I did spend some time on the phone with Chenyu “Victor” Huang, Ph.D., of UNO’s Aviation Institute. He holds several advanced degrees in aviation and leads UNO’s undergraduate concentration in unmanned aircraft systems.

“It’s important to understand the regulations for legal and safe operation,” Dr. Huang told me. The official wording can be found online at https://www.faa.gov/uas/ but in a nutshell, this is what is required for standard and legal drone use.

Drones are to operate no more than 400 feet above the ground.

Drones cannot fly within five miles of an airport.

Drones are to fly only during the daytime.

Drones are to remain in sight of the operator while flying.

To fly outside these standards, an operator must ask and receive permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Double check my thinking here. If drones operate outside the standard regulations, they either are flying with permission or...

The FAA, at least to my knowledge, is professing to have no knowledge of who is operating the drones. They are joining in the task force to investigate them.

Dr. Huang emphasized the FAA regulates the civil use of drones. As I asked a few more questions, he said it’s too premature for him to comment or speculate. However, others are speculating. In an online article at gazette.com, a Colorado newspaper, reporter Tom Roeder wrote “The Air Force isn’t claiming ownership of the drones, but neither is it denying it.”

I’ve heard it’s a federal offense and can be dangerous to shoot down a drone. What about the danger they pose? What about needing a medical helicopter after dark? Could a collision with a drone bring down a helicopter?

“Absolutely,” was Dr. Huang’s answer.

The public, many of who are on edge about the situation, deserves an explanation.

There is someone who knows what’s going on. Certainly that person or persons didn’t really think dozens of drones flying in groups at night would go undetected or unquestioned. If so, they don’t deserve the technology they are operating. Step forward and tell us what’s going on before a drone comes down or, worse, someone gets hurt.

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