Residents of Austin, TX were thrilled, shocked and bewildered by the appearance over their city last Thursday of a swarm of bright lights that briefly hovered, then suddenly shot away and disappeared. Was it evidence of a UFO, many wondered. One man who shot a short video of the event seemed genuinely spooked that an alien invasion might be imminent. But others noted that similar light patterns can be made by drones deployed in public light displays that some locales sponsor as an alternative to fireworks. Was a rogue drone operator simply testing out his personal drone fleet?
“It was mesmerizing, honestly….,because if it was one light, then I would have maybe thought, ‘Oh, a helicopter, a plane, something like that.’ But like there were so many of them together,” Emily White, an Austin resident who witnessed the light display, told Fox Television.
Under current F.A.A. regulations, drone flights at night are prohibited, unless the operator obtains waiver, which is unlikely in this case, though the FAA is still investigating the incident. If the operator did break the law, he’s unlikely to be apprehended unless he tries again and law enforcement can find a way to track him, perhaps through his GPS signal, analysts say. The apparent UFO sighting in Austin is hardly the first. Mutual UFO, a California-based non-profit that investigates and studies UFO sightings, says there are 800 such sightings annually in Texas alone. And while many are never formally explained, drones, not alien spaceships, are often suspected as the real “object” in question.
A third possibility, say some UFO conspiracy theorists, is that some of these UFOs are actually Pentagon aircraft conducting clandestine surveillance activities, or test flights of new prototypes, without informing the public. In any event, many of these sightings leave residents rattled, according to their testimonies. In one case reported to Mutual UFO a resident reported that an object that she could not identify followed her to a local gas station, before suddenly. flying away. Whatever the craft’s real origins, vivid memories of the experience still haunt her, she says.
Evidence also exists that some drone operators may be deliberately configuring their UAVs with multi-colored high-intensity lights that make the craft visible from miles away, while raising the specter of a UFO. Drone operators that deliberately harass or menace the public in this fashion, especially by flying in such close physical proximity could be guilty of a crime, legal experts say.
In theory, federal requirements that drones above a certain size and weight be fitted with a module that identifies their owner could cut down on such incidents. However, Remote ID, as the program is known, does not go into effect until September 2023. Moreover smaller drones under 2.5 kms that are exempt from registration requirements will also be exempt from Remote ID.