The Drones Come Home

Unmanned aircraft have proved their prowess against al Qaeda. Now they’re poised to take off on the home front. Possible missions: patrolling borders, tracking perps, dusting crops. And maybe watching us all?

  1. At the edge of a stubbly, dried-out alfalfa field outside Grand Junction, Colorado, Deputy Sheriff Derek Johnson, a stocky young man with a buzz cut, squints at a speck crawling across the brilliant, hazy sky. It’s not a vulture or crow but a Falcon—a new brand of unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone, and Johnson is flying it. The sheriff ’s office here in Mesa County, a plateau of farms and ranches corralled by bone-hued mountains, is weighing the Falcon’s potential for spotting lost hikers and criminals on the lam. A laptop on a table in front of Johnson shows the drone’s flickering images of a nearby highway.

    Standing behind Johnson, watching him watch the Falcon, is its designer, Chris Miser. Rock-jawed, arms crossed, sunglasses pushed atop his shaved head, Miser is a former Air Force captain who worked on military drones before quitting in 2007 to found his own company in Aurora, Colorado. The Falcon has an eight-foot wingspan but weighs just 9.5 pounds. Powered by an electric mot...

The complete text of “The Drones Come Home” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on ngm.nationalgeographic.com.

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