State confirms use of multi-mission aircraft for drone search after FOX31 investigation; costs $500/hour

Problem Solvers
Data pix.

DENVER -- The state has confirmed its Multi-Mission Aircraft did participate in the search for suspicious drones Monday night after a FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation determined the plane was flying in circles in northeastern Colorado during that same time.

The state has plans to fly a similar mission again soon.

“We’re really out there because there have been some very serious and credible reports, and we want to try to find out what’s happening,” said Stan Hilkey, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Safety.

On Monday, the aircraft, which is equipped with heat and color sensors, flew for nearly five hours in an area where people have been reporting mysterious drones in recent weeks.

“Some of the things that we learned on Monday night with the use of the aircraft was that there were reports and we were able to basically confirm that those were not drone systems. Some of them were just aircraft in the sky. People were seeing lights and thinking it was a drone, and so a lot of this is trying to separate, sort of, myth from reality as well.” said Hilkey.

According to Patricia Billinger, a spokesperson for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the approximate cost per hour to operate the state Multi-Mission Aircraft is $500 with a standard three-person crew.

Hilkey said the state’s concerns were elevated when they learned a Flight For Life helicopter pilot reported a drone flying near his aircraft on Tuesday as he traveled toward Ft. Morgan.

The FAA told the Problem Solvers it could not confirm receiving a report of the near-miss. A spokesperson for the National Transportation Safety Board said it had not yet received a report about the incident.

“We don’t want to wait until there is some accident,” said Gov. Jared Polis. “We've got to figure out what this is, and so the state can support the local governments. And yes, we can try to use our state plane to identify if there is a threat or where it’s coming from.”

Aviation expert Steve Cowell told the Problems Solvers he thought it was “interesting” that the state is getting involved in the drone investigation.

“We’re intensely curious, but now we’re employing a state aircraft to look for something that may or may not be perfectly legal?” he said.

Cowell said the ongoing investigation into the drones flying in northeastern Colorado is not worth all the resources being committed to it.

“This is not worthy of anybody’s time until something happens,” he said. “Nothing has happened.  This is just like a car circling on a block. We may be curious. We may be suspicious.  But the car has not done anything wrong.  We don’t know if these operators of these drones have done anything wrong. We’re just intensely curious.”

When asked whether the FAA knew who is operating the drones in northeastern Colorado, a spokesperson replied, “That’s under investigation.”

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