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Are drones the new UFOs?




Ten years back, if someone looked to the sky and noticed a mysterious light or object, hovering or moving in ways that didn’t immediately make sense, a ready conclusion many would come to was: “I just saw a UFO!”

Jump to the present day and someone witnessing the same thing, an object passing by in their peripheral vision is likely to say: “I just saw a drone!”

Slate has just written an article on this topic which got me thinking. The author, Faine Greenwood, makes the point that the era in which we live heavily influences what we believe is behind any particular unexplained phenomenon. For example, during the middle ages, if people who saw mysterious lights in the sky would most likely assume it was some sort of sign from Gods. During the Cold War, Americans might attribute mysterious items in US skies as Russian spy planes or incoming missiles.

Drones are a hot commodity right now and have well and truly entered the public psyche. Most of the prominent stories in the public sphere relating to drones have a negative bent. Whether it be public disruption, near-misses with planes, surveillance, spying, killing people in distant lands – it’s no wonder UAVs get a bad wrap! Putting this into context then – if someone sees something that they can’t immediately recognise flying in the sky, they may quickly assume it’s a drone when it might be something innocuous like a plastic bag, bird or small aircraft.

Greenwood also makes the interesting observation that the decline in UFO sightings around 2014, coincided with an uptick in the popularity of small consumer drones. Her most prescient quote from the article:

“Perhaps these drones are just a product of the unpleasant times that we live in, a manifestation of our fears.”

Following my writings about the Gatwick drone incident late last year and the alleged sighting of a drone at Heathrow in January, some readers communicated via Facebook that I shouldn’t be so quick to assume they were actually drones!

I’ve taken this feedback on board and will be careful in future to say ‘alleged sighting’ for future sightings. There’s no doubt that many of these incidents are genuine but we also know that people can and do imagine things. One reader wrote that they doubted the BBC cameraman who allegedly spotted

We still don’t know what exactly caused the 36 hours of chaos and Gatwick. More than 100 people claimed to see a drone and those sightings came from the likes of pilots, police officers and airport staff. We’re not saying they didn’t see a drone but the hysteria associating these sightings (which I was a part of) could be avoided if we get better detection technology. Not having any clear photos of drone sightings (which won’t always be possible due to the heights drone fly at), doesn’t help.

The consequence of people being too quick to jump on drones, even in cases where the sightings near airports are not completely confirmed is that this useful technology might be unfairly curtailed.  Hopefully we soon establish a sure-fire method of identifying whether sighting are genuine or people are leaping to conclusions without yet having the proper evidence.

Make sure to check out the original article that inspired this piece here.

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