Drones and UFOs: It's hard to deny the growing association between these two subjects, particularly in recent years where more and more reports of supposed anomalous aerial phenomenon are being chalked up to being possible drone sightings.
One incident that occurred in May of 2012 involved FAA officials investigating an unidentified object or aircraft that came dangerously close to colliding with a commercial airliner over Denver, Colorado. According to both pilots and FAA reports, the object purportedly resembled a large, remote controlled aircraft. “Now we have something in controlled airspace that poses a danger,” Denver-area aviation analyst Greg Feith said at the time. It was unclear what the object had been, although it had been suspected by many at the time that the object may indeed have been a drone.
A recent article in the Huffington Post by Jeffery Shaffer discussed a drone sighting he had, which led him to consider whether the broad use of drones today is diminishing the efforts of UFO researchers. "The evidence pool is being polluted by an ever-increasing presence of small, sophisticated flying machines that are totally terrestrial in origin," Shaffer wrote. "It won't be long before drones become the default explanation for every shiny speck or glowing orb that traverses the wild blue yonder. They also present an array of new opportunities for UFO-related pranks and hoaxes."
Shaffer related his own experience, in which he had been commuting home when he observed what would become his first drone flyover:
"While waiting at a stoplight next to a shopping center, I noticed a bright bluish light in the sky directly ahead. How do I know it wasn't a plane or helicopter? I've seen plenty of them in the past, along with hot air balloons, kites, and even streaking green meteorites that broke into pieces."
Of course, the color blue might be distinguishable from most conventional aircraft for another reason: the FAA does not permit blue lights on any aircraft operated above a certain altitude, although hobby aircraft and RCPs often do feature this color. Shaffer noted that there was "no feeling of awe or mystery," and after confiding to his wife what he had seen later that night, learned of a drone store in a shopping mall nearby. "I was probably witnessing an aerial test drive," he surmised.
Returning to the notion that drone appearances are diminishing the UFO phenomenon in some way, perhaps we don't need a sky littered with drones to affect such change. The UFOs seem to be doing a fine job of it themselves, if reports over the last few years are indeed indicative of a decline in the number of reports of strange things seen in our skies.
In 2004, The Guardian cited various UFO groups internationally which had all similarly claimed that the number of quality comtemporary UFO reports were in decline:
Bufora, the top UK forum for skywatchers, ruefully admitted that UFO sightings have been in "steady decline" since the late 1990s. Most striking of all, the British Flying Saucer Bureau has suspended its activities, because the number of sightings has crashed from a peak of around 30 a week to almost zero. Denis Plunkett, the retired civil servant from Bristol who founded the bureau in 1953, says: "I am just as enthusiastic about flying saucers as I always was, but the problem is that we are in the middle of a long, long trough. There just aren't enough new sightings. It is not like being a philatelist. There is always something new to say about stamps."
This isn't just a British phenomenon. In Indiana in the US an amateur association of scientific ufologists known as Madar (multiple autonomy detection and automatic recording) has seen a steady and accelerating fall-off in UFO activity since the peaks of the mid-70s. Likewise, New Jersey's skywatchers have openly wondered whether to call it a day. Even the cold skies of northern Norway are bereft: "It's unexplainable," says Leif-Norman Solhaug, leader of Scandinavian skywatching society UFO Nord-Norge. "Maybe people are just fed up with the UFO hysteria."
Nick Redfern and I have similarly noted our frustration with this apparent trend here at MU (as can be read here and here), and just to show that we aren't the only ones, writing for Aeon Magazine in 2013, writer Stuart Walton similarly noted, "Once, the skies were refulgent with alien craft; now they are back to their primordial emptiness, returning only static to the radio telescopes, and offering the occasional meteor shower to the wondering eye."
Speaking of meteors, as I stood outside peering into the night sky just 12 hours prior to having authored this post on the subject, I watched brilliant pinkish Perseids streaking through the sky over me and thought, "where are all the unknowns?" Were they really ever there to begin with?
Well, certainly... although understanding what "unknowns" may entail also requires a breakdown of the possible kinds of objects, and their origins, which may have been associated with UFO sightings over the decades. I suspect there are good reasons for there being fewer decent UFO sightings in recent years, and few of them probably have to do with visits from extraterrestrial beings.
There was a time, of course, where UFO literature had been rife with such seemingly otherworldly happenings. Is the integration of technology into our lives affecting this in some way? Had the UFO reports of yesteryear truly been representative of physical craft, or were they the rudiments of some cultural holdover from the past, manifesting within our collective minds as if to display for us, in some instructive way, a path to the future, assisted by stark, alien symbolism... and nothing more?
I doubt that drones by themselves are enough to drive a death nail through the heart of UFOlogy. They may, however, be one part of the broader, cumulative trend toward secularism that is emerging from within the coming technocracy, and which have contributed to the ever-changing UFO mystery as it appears to have withdrawn increasingly from our midst. Or, rather than having withdrawn or disappeared, perhaps our cultural perception of UFOs has simply distanced itself from where the phenomenon once lingered near the realm of imagination, favoring instead a technological outlook that is more sober than at any time before.
Maybe it's fair to ask whether technology, and maybe other factors, are indeed changing our attitudes, culturally and otherwise, about UFOs. Whatever the cause, and however we choose to interpret it, the fact that a change has been taking place for some time seems hard to deny at this point.