Last month, a unique story out of Sao Paulo, Brazil described how a strange object described as a bright light or ball said to “dart and zig-zag across the sky” aroused curiosity among onlookers who thought they were seeing a UFO. Some of the people who watched the odd little light moving along through the sky managed to film it, and soon videos would begin to appear online showing the purported UFO flyover.
Among those videos, however, was one that had to be fairly novel as far as UFO videos online go, for it showed the same incident from the perspective of the flying object! Indeed, the craft had been an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with a camera mounted onboard, under operation by Folha TV, an area television news station.
This only goes to show what many of us today already know: that there may soon be an incredible rise in reports of unusual things seen in the skies, since people’s unfamiliarity with the multitude of new drone technologies will likely contribute to further confusion about things seen in our skies. This sentiment was mirrored by Tony Hallett, CEO of the Pennsylvania based Unmanned Response, Inc., in a May 2013 article of similar theme and scope. “You have to think of the older people who have no concept of what a drone is, Hallett said. “It’ll be an unidentified flying object for them.”
The reason, presumably, that drones would be more apparent to certain demographics than others would probably have to do with their relatively recent appearance as a new technology, and subsequently, a cultural staple proliferated via news, podcasts, blogs, and social media. But how “new” can we really say that drones are, and is there precedent for their being UAV technologies that have been around much longer?
During a recent discussion about this with my fellow researcher Tyler Pittman, he noted that many observers would not have incorporated frequent use of drones into their lexicon as recently as one year ago. However, the truth is that there have been a variety of drone technologies–that is, aircraft that can be piloted remotely for reconnaissance missions and the like–that have been around for nearly a century. For instance, by the 1930s aircraft like the UK’s Fairey Queen and the US Navy Curtiss ‘N2C-2’ were already in production; hence, drone technologies existed even prior to World War II.
In more recent years, models like the Navy’s XF7-B have seemed to stir the pot in popular culture (in addition to contributing slightly more exotic designs which have spurred imaginations as far as UFO reports may go). However, one of the greatest controversies, perhaps, has been reports of near collisions between drones and passenger aircraft. According to NASA’s Aviation Safety Reporting System, reports of such incidents (which can be found here: http://asrs.arc.nasa.gov/docs/rpsts/uav.pdf) date back to at least 2006. While they are fairly limited in numbers, the report linked above is given with the following caveat:
One thing that can be known from ASRS data is that the number of reports received concerning specific event types represents the lower measure of the true number of such events that are occurring. For example, if ASRS receives 881 reports of track deviations in 2010 (this number is purely hypothetical), then it can be known with some certainty that at least 881 such events have occurred in 2010.
Indeed, we should also consider that the US isn’t the only agency keeping records about near-collisions between planes and drone aircraft. A recently released piece of German drone footage shows a similar near-miss, as recorded by the video mounted on board the drone in flight! The entire terrifying ordeal, which was initially kept confidential, later ended up being posted online:
As one can clearly see, not only have the drones been in our midst for quite some time, but they also may, in certain circumstances, present a threat. When we pair this information with the curious history of drone involvement spanning not just the last few years, but the last several decades, it might cause one to wonder about at least a few UFO reports (especially in the more modern sense, with more complex and foreign-looking drone designs). Of course, the future of drone technology, rather than its history, would have to be the real interesting facet to all this, especially in terms of where new innovations in the design of exotic, small, and highly maneuverable aircraft will take us. We truly may reach a point where it will be hard to distinguish, as former President John F. Kennedy once called them, “the knowns and unknowns” of modern aviation.