It's neither bird nor plane and no, it's not a drug submarine, either.
The strange orange missilelike object found floating in Upper Keys waters over the weekend is a training drone shot down by Air Force pilots with the 82 Aerial Targets Squadron out of Tyndall Air Force Base in Pensacola, officials said.
"We try diligently to find these things and remove them as quickly as possible, but sometimes the weather hinders that," said Lt. Col. Lance Wilkins, 82nd Aerial Targets Squadron commander.
The practice drone, known as the BQM-167A or subscale aerial target in military parlance, was shot down with an air-to-air missile by pilots on Jan. 31, but bad weather slowed down recovery efforts, so the drone was floating in the Gulf currents before it turned up in Blackwater Sound waters Sunday morning, Wilkins said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) crews received a call over the radio, found the drone and alerted the Air Force, said FWC Lt. David Dipre.
The drone does not carry explosive weapons, but it does contain jet fuel and sometimes the Air Force outfits them with anti-missile equipment such as chaff and flare dispensers, according to Air Force fact sheets available online.
The drones are capable of speeds just below Mach 1 and can fly at 50,000 feet.
The 82 Aerial Targets Squadron uses their own boats to retrieve the drones, as they are one of only two Air Force squadrons that have boats, Wilkins said.
"It's in our best interest to hurry up and get these out of the water, as we reuse them and they can be a hazard to mariners out there," Wilkins said.
The Navy does not use the BQM-167A on the state's east coast, but do as part of their west coast operations, Wilkins said.
This particular drone will now be disassembled due to saltwater corrosion.
"That speaks to how often we reuse these and how hard our guys work to find them," Wilkins said. "This particular BQM was shot down four previous times."