A Full History of Drones and UAV’s

The earliest recorded uncrewed aerial vehicle backfired when uncrewed balloons filled with explosives blew back and bombed the Austrians instead of Venice. Drones are defined as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), and these uncrewed balloons were the closest to a UAV in 1839.

History of Drones Used for Military Purposes

Inventor Nikola Tesla’s remote-control technology inspired Great Britain to develop the first crewless winged aircraft, Ruston Proctor Aerial Target. Its maiden flight was sixteen years after the famous Kitty Hawk flight of the Wright Brothers, but the R.C. pilotless airplane was never used in combat as intended. The American Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane was more successful. The aerial torpedoes were mass-produced as the Kettering Bug, but the war ended before it could be used. These UAVs launched the era of military drones.

In 1935 Britain and the U.S. developed R.C. aircraft that were used for training and target practice. The name drone was possibly derived from the British DH.82B Queen Bee.

During World War II, the first successful military drone was deployed. The U.S. Navy experimented with radio-controlled aircraft, and Reginald Denny created the Radioplane 0Q-2, the first UAV that was massed produced.  Germany used the FX-1400, a 2,300-pound bomb to sink ships. The FX-1400 was the predecessor for the modern precision-guided weapons and missiles.

Modern Military Drones History

During the 60s, transistor technology opened the door to affordable remote-control planes in the U.S. Drones were expensive toys and known for their unreliability until the Israeli Air Force’s victory over the Syrian Air Force in 1982. They used drone technology, strategically increasing the success of military operations. The Israeli Air Force used drones as decoys preventing the loss of pilot’s lives. They also used the drones to keep tabs on the enemy’s position and to jam communications.

In 1986 the RQ2 Pioneer drone, a medium-sized scouting aircraft, was developed in a joint project between the U.S. and Israel. Then the Predator was used by the U.S. to search for Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1990.

Modern military drones are generally used for combat surveillance and tactical military observations. Drone pilots operate the remote control flying the drones over enemy territory surveying the enemy’s position. With tactical reconnaissance, no pilot maneuvers the smaller drone, the drone flies on autopilot. These mini-drones have predesignated targets where the drone camera takes photos and returns to the home base. Although the Predator was retired in 2019, drones are used for offensive strikes too.

Commercial Drone History

Government agencies began using drones in wildfire fighting, disaster relief operations, and border surveillance. The technology of the non-military drones improved as the technology developed in military drones.

Commercial drone usage was established about 2006. According to a Wall Street Journal report, uncrewed surveillance planes were used for search and rescue missions after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

In 2006, the FAA issued the first commercial drone permits, creating opportunities for companies and businesses to use drones in business endeavors. Initially, there were not many requests. The FAA issued about two permits per year until 2013.

An announcement by Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, changed the modern history of drones. He announced that they were considering using drones as a delivery method to deliver products to customers. Although Amazon was not the first company to consider a drone delivery system, the idea created enthusiasm among the public and potential drone enthusiasts.  Drone permits escalated to 1000 permits in 2015 and 3100 permits a year later.  

Recreational Drones History

Parrot, a French company, demonstrated the Parrot AR Drone at the International CES, Las Vegas in 2010. It was the first drone entirely operated via WI-FI using an iOS smartphone. The drone received the 2010 CES Innovations award for Electronic Gaming Hardware and sold over half a million units.

Parrot also released the A.R. Race for solo game and interaction in combat simulations. The improvements in the AR Drone 2.0 made piloting easier and possible for novices to master the skills of flying a drone effortlessly.

Although the Lily Camera Drone won the consumer Electronics Show Innovation Award in 2016 and $34 million in pre-orders, the company filed for bankruptcy. The Lily Camera Drone incident made many hobbyists weary but did not stop the growing enthusiasm of flying drones for fun.

One of the most popular recreational drones in the world was launched in 2016 by DJI, a brand well-known in the world of drone enthusiasts. The DJI Phantom 4 was not limited by GPS signals but functioned with machine learning technology and smart computer vision. It was now possible to photograph or track people or animals without GPS signal limitations.  The Phantom 4 Pro was an even more significant improvement than the Phantom 4.

New drone companies are competing and improving drone technology daily. Here are four companies that have shown innovative creativity.  

  • Altair Aerial in Lincoln, Nebraska have drones like the Blackhawk. Their drones are reasonably priced and designed for beginners to advanced drone pilots.
  • Flyability was founded in 2014 and is known for launching Elios in 2015 that makes industrial drones flying easy.
  • X-Star Premium from Autel Robotics is a drone with a 4k camera onboard and can be flown indoors, outdoors, and at low altitudes.
  • Insitu, a subsidiary of The Boeing Company, are the forerunners of designing high-performance and cost-effective drones. The ScanEgale 3, designed for higher payload and more extended durability, was unveiled in 2018 at the Xponential, Denver, Colorado.

Pilots fly drones as a hobby, to make money, or for military purposes. Whatever the job, drones become smaller and smaller, and the technology improves daily.

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