The History of Drones, from Military to Civilian Use

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The history of drones is long and varied. It spans from the early days of aviation to modern warfare and commercial uses of UAV. Though they are often associated with the military, drones have a wide range of potential civilian applications as well. This article will explore the history of drones, from their humble beginnings to their current role in society.

Early Aviation and the First World War

During World War One, the first aerial drone of the aviation age was invented by Englishman Archibald M. Low.

Known as Aerial Target, or AT for short, the aircraft was designed as a remote-controlled plane with an explosive warhead. A series of technical problems hampered its progress and the project was abandoned. 

World War II

Germany, however, would recognize the possibilities of Low’s technology. During World War Two, the V1, which looked very like a small plane, was a guided missile that was used in the bombing of London. The Nazis went a step further with the V2, which was an unmanned rocket. The V2 was also used to bomb London but was twice as big as the V1. 

A few years before the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, a Remote Piloted Vehicle was successfully tested by the British, as its interest in unmanned aircraft was revived. To be known as RPVs, English actor Reginald Denny was one of the driving forces behind this technology.

RPVs were used in the Second World War for defensive and offensive purposes by the British, but it was after the War and during the Cold War that drone development began in earnest in the US. America had previously experimented with building drones from World War One onwards with little success. 

The Cold War

With the US and Soviet Union building up their nuclear arsenals in the years after the Second World War, there was a keenness, on both sides, to discover just how powerful they were. The US became adept at making unmanned aircraft and, in 1951, a prototype of the Ryan Firebee was the first of many successful US Unmanned Airplane Vehicles (UAVs) to be completed. UAVs would later also be known as drones

The History of Drones - the Cold War
Photo by Dan Meyers on Unsplash

It was after US pilot Gary Powers was shot down over Russia in 1960, in his U2 spy plane, that the American Government focussed more on using unmanned surveillance aircraft. When America entered the Vietnam War in 1963, drones were used right at the beginning of America’s involvement in the conflict. Notably, the US refused to confirm or deny that they were using drones – no doubt with the Soviets in mind. 

Late 20th Century Drones

Other countries began to develop their drones, with the Israeli Air Force being one of the first to do so when using them in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Reconnaissance UAVs were also used in the 1991 Gulf War. 

As the technology developed, drones were seen as a way of gathering information and hitting enemy targets, without risking the lives of aircrew.

These targeted strikes are also criticized, in some quarters, for being inaccurate and killing civilians. These casualties were and remain referred to using the euphemism of collateral damage.

Aerial drones are, though, likely to be used more and more in the years ahead. When drones are seen as a sure way of attacking an enemy without endangering aircrew or civilians, then manned aircraft may become increasingly obsolete in modern warfare.

21st Century Drones

The 21st century has seen the development of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), for both military and civilian purposes.

While the use of drones by the military has been controversial, there is no doubt that they have played a vital role in the War on Terror and other armed conflicts. In particular, drones have been used to target terrorist leaders and facilities in areas that are too dangerous for conventional aircraft.

In addition, drones have also been used for humanitarian purposes, such as unmanned deliveries of aid to regions affected by natural disasters. As technology continues to develop, drones will likely play an even more important role in both military and civilian life in the 21st century.

21st Century Drones for Aerial Photography

Aerial photography has come a long way since the days of early camera-carrying balloons and kites. Now, drones have made it possible to capture stunning images and videos from perspectives that were once impossible to obtain.

Radio-controlled aircraft have been around for a long time, but they had the same limitations as full-sized aircraft. It wasn’t until the early 21st century that civilian drone technology reached the point at which they became stable enough to hover to the extent that they could take aerial shots.

2013-2014 saw the emergence of quadcopters that could carry a digital camera and the technology of the quadcopters, gimbals, cameras, and software has rapidly evolved. Drone developers began to see the potential of remotely controlled camera drones and drone photography.

DJI Innovation’s Phantom Drone was one of the first and they quickly established a strong presence in the civilian drone industry. This new technology is being used by everyone from amateur photographers to professional news organizations. With it has come new regulations that necessitate obtaining a commercial drone permit.

Drones are especially well-suited for capturing images of large events, such as festivals or sports games. They can also be used to get a bird’s-eye view of natural disasters or other emergencies. In the 21st century, drones are quickly changing the landscape of aerial photography.

Abraham Karem

The history of drones is often traced back to the military, but the story begins with a man named Abraham Karem. Born in Israel in 1939, Karem grew up fascinated by aircraft and dreamed of becoming a pilot.

However, when he was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces in 1961, he was assigned to work on ground vehicles instead. Undeterred, Karem used his spare time to teach himself how to build model airplanes.

He later left the IDF to study aeronautical engineering, and in the 1970s he moved to the United States to work for Lockheed Martin. It was there that Karem began developing his first drones, known as Albatrosses. These early drones were large and slow, but they were also capable of staying in the air for long periods.

Karem’s drone design would go on to be used by the military, but it would also have a major impact on the civilian world. Today, drones are used for everything from aerial photography to delivery services, and it all started with Abraham Karem’s innovative design.

In summary

Military drones have a long and complex history, dating back to World Wars I & II. In the latter conflict, the first pilotless aircraft were used as flying bombs, and were essentially primitive drones. These aircraft were essentially radio-controlled planes that were used to drop explosives on targets. While they were not particularly accurate, they did allow for the targeting of specific enemy positions without risking the lives of pilots.

The use of drones continued after World War II, where they were used primarily for target practice. However, as drone technology began to advance, they began to be used for other purposes as well. For example, the United States Air Force began to use Predator drones for reconnaissance and border surveillance.

Since then, military drones have continued to play a significant role in warfare. In particular, the use of armed drones has become increasingly common in recent years. In fact, there are now more than 20 countries that possess armed drones, and the number is growing every day. This has led to a great deal of controversy, as there is significant debate over the morality of using unmanned aircraft to kill people.

Commercial drones have also seen a great deal of growth in recent years. In particular, the use of civilian drones for photography and videography has become increasingly popular. As a result, the commercial drone market is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

However, the use of civilian drones has also raised some concerns. In particular, there is worry that civilian drones could be used for malicious purposes, such as spying or even terrorist attacks. As a result, there have been calls for greater regulation of civilian drone use.

Finally, civilian drones have also begun to be used for humanitarian purposes. For example, there are now several programs that use civilian drones to deliver medical supplies and other aid to remote areas. This has been incredibly successful in places such as Africa and Pakistan, where traditional methods of delivery are often slow or dangerous.

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