Everyone has heard about drones, the unmanned aerial vehicle from so many science fiction novels and shows. However they have become a reality in the 21st century, and can be used for so many different tasks to improve the quality of life as well as defense purposes. Drones can either be autonomous or remotely controlled however both have similar capabilities. Many hobbyists also fly their own drones, normally called quadcopters. Some of the best quadcopters these days are quite advanced such as those at DroneJedi.
The earliest record of an unmanned aircraft for the purpose of fighting in wars occurred on August 22, 1849. Austria developed balloons that were loaded with explosives to attack the Italian city of Venice. Some of these deadly balloons were launched from the Austrian ship Vulcano, some of these balloons worked for their intended purpose while the wind caught others, sending them back over Austrian lines. These balloons were twenty-three feet in diameter and were detonated by electro magnetism.
World War I
The very first pilotless aircraft was built during and very shortly after World War I. If development continued further it would have been used against Zeppelins. On September 12th 1916 the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, known as the “flying bomb” made its first flight in demonstration of the concept of unmanned aircrafts. Later, in November of 1917, the automatic airplane was flown for US Army representatives, leading to commission of a project to build an “aerial torpedo” which resulted in the Kettering Bug’s first flight in 1918. However it was not in time to fight in the war so development and deployment was halted.
There were other pilotless aircrafts developed between World War I and World War II that were radio controlled. One of the most notorious successes of this was the development to the Fairey Queen in 1931, which lead to the development of the DH 82B Queen Bee in 1935. This lead to the term we now use today for pilotless aircrafts, the drone.
World War II
Reginald Denny originally moved to the USA to become famous in Hollywood as an actor. Having served with the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I, he spent his time between acting job to acting job perusing his interest in the radio controlled aircrafts in the 1930s. Later he formed Reginald Denny Industries as well as Reginald Denny Hobby Shops in 1934, the shop eventually turned into the Radioplane Company and Reginald began developing RC aircrafts for use in training anti-aircraft type gunners. He demonstrated his target drone prototype, the RP-1, to the United States Army in 1935. Many other prototypes were shown to the Army and 15,000 drones were manufactured for use in World War II.
Cold War to Today
There were even more advancements through the Cold War which evolved the target drone from Radioplane models to the OQ-2 and other piston-powered target drones. Shortly thereafter these drones were converted to be used for aerial photo reconnaissance missions in the mid-1950s.
We have come a long ways from the days of the Fairey Queen and the OQ-2 drones. Now days we have battlefield UAVs, micro UAVs, and many others for military use. There are also drones that are used for hobbyists as well as others who take interest in drones.