Nov 12, 2010 I Micah Hanks

Attack of the Drones: Interlopers in our Airspace!

Look, up in the sky! What is it... a bird? A plane... is it Superman? Or maybe it's just a UFO. Whatever you think it may be, soon there will be another option to add to the proverbial list of unidentifiable aerial objects soaring overhead, and this time, they have a very terrestrial origin.

Earlier this week, the Wall Street Journal reported on a variety of low-altitude "drone" aircraft which will be made available to the American public, for use in projects ranging from weekend hobby projects to paparazzi scouting and scouring for tabloid hot-stories. These gadgets, ranking only a step above your average remote-controlled hobby planes and helicopters, are mounted with video cameras and live-streaming video capabilities; but the real reason these gadgets have been causing such a stir has more to do with how they hit your pocketbook: some models cost less than $400, and can be controlled remotely using an Apple iPhone!

Sounds to far-fetched to be true, huh? Just for kicks, below I've included a video demonstration of one popular model, the AR Drone, during a test flight:


As mentioned earlier, ideally these helicopter-like drones will appear on the front lines in future waves of photojournalism, where airborne photographers will manage to capture images of celebrities at their best... and worst. However, those who might contest the use of such craft at present (in the U.S., at least) are in for a surprise too: presently, as long as remote-controlled drone aircraft operate below 400 feet, they aren't subject to jurisdiction under FAA regulation. In spite of the issues pertaining to individual privacy that will eventually come into play, there are other obvious questions pertaining to the use of remote-controlled airborne drones. For instance, if strange looking, tiny helicopter-like craft begin to see frequent use in suburban areas, could their presence contribute to more frequent reports of UFOs?

There are a number of phenomenon--both natural and of the technological variety--which are often mistaken for UFOs. Arguably, there is a strong likelihood that many unidentified flying craft spotted over the years have actually been either secret government test projects or, in at least a few cases, civilian aircraft which remained unknown to even government officials (as in the case with sightings of "airships" reported during the late nineteenth century). Additionally, the term "drone" has a special place in the hearts of ufologists already, after a series of photos from various locales started appearing on the Internet in early 2007 depicting what were called "drones." These photos, though never conclusively disproved, depicted a series of skillfully Photoshopped, far-out looking UFO craft that incorporated similar elements from a number of time-tested science fiction motifs. For more on the lineage of the Drone Hoax, click here.

According to some purveyors of the aforementioned mystery, these so-called drones were, in fact, also of terrestrial origin, having incorporated back-engineered technology gathered from (you guessed it) crashed flying saucers. That said, next time you're lounging by the pool on a sunny day catching some rays, and you look up to see a helicopterish-automaton hovering nearby, it's less likely that you're about to become intergalactic breeding stock for aliens. I would, however, take note about which of my neighbors owned iPhones!

Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, podcaster, and researcher whose interests cover a variety of subjects. His areas of focus include history, science, philosophy, current events, cultural studies, technology, unexplained phenomena, and ways the future of humankind may be influenced by science and innovation in the coming decades. In addition to writing, Micah hosts the Middle Theory and Gralien Report podcasts.

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