The drones that are flown today are well equipped with limitless technology. They are fully autonomous in almost every professional aspect. Drones keep undergoing upgrades every single day and newer features are constantly added to them but the astonishing fact about these UAVs is that they date back to the World War I. Actually even before that.
On August 22, 1849, Austria attacked the Italian city of Venice with an unmanned fleet of balloons filled with explosives.That is more than a century ago. The balloons were launched from a stable platform at sea. About 200 balloons were launched at an altitude of 4,500ft, laden with several pounds of explosives and set with half an hour time fuses. They flew above the city of Venice. Most of them burst in mid-air while few balloons drifted back to the Austrians due to the South Wind. It didn’t actually cause much damage to the city but Venice eventually surrendered two days later. It may not have been a successful usage of UAVs but it sure did pave its way into the development of drones. The concept of unmanned vehicles has been there for a really long time but it grew in popularity after World War I.
Drones in World War l
The Kettering Bug also known as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane (the flying bomb) was a pilotless bomb-carrying aircraft developed during the World War I. It flew on a pre-set course towards its target. Prototypes were built and test flights were made but before the Bug could make its maiden flight in the battlefield, the war was over. This aircraft was intended to be used as an early version of cruise missiles. They were kept in control using gyroscopes and radio signals.
It was demonstrated to the U.S army in 1917. The development and production of the UAV was initiated but it never came to actual deployment as the war had already ended.
However, the drone technology developed during World War I still existed and many more models were developed in succession. The Period from 1927 to 1935 saw many new drones like the Larynx by the Royal Navy, Fairey Queen and Queen Bee by the British Army were some of the most prominent drones developed by the military powers.
In World War II, drones were used by the British Army to test and train their anti-aircraft guns and to launch unmanned attacks on the enemy. The Nazis weren’t far behind and had also implemented drones in warfare. The term “Drones” was coined in the 1930s in order to describe early remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship’s guns.
Postwar the introduction of jet engines came along and the first jet engine powered drone was the Teledyne Ryan Firebee I of 1951. By 1955, the Model 1001 was developed by Beechcraft for the US Navy and these drones were simply remotely controlled jets.
Modern Military Drones
The true invention of the modern military drone took place when the U.S army started working on its highly classified UAV program known as ‘Red Wagon’. It feared losing its pilots in the hostile territory following a shootdown of its U-2 aircraft by the Soviets. UAVs were used in actual battle during the Vietnamese War by the U.S military who later confirmed that more than 3,400 UAVs were flown into battle and out of which 554 were lost in combat.
During the Yom Kippur War, Israel developed the first UAV with real-time surveillance, after Soviet Union’s surface-to-air missiles used by Egypt and Syria dealt heavy damage to Israel’s fighter jets. The images and radar decoying provided by these UAVs helped Israel to neutralize Syria’s air defenses at the start of the 1982 Lebanon War, resulting in no pilots lost. By 1987, Israel had developed proof-of-concept capabilities in tailless, stealth-based, three-dimensional thrust vectoring flight control, jet steering UAVs for the first time. UAVs were also used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. These UAVs were mainly surveillance drones and only some carried offensive capabilities.
Later after the September 11 attacks in 2001, drone technology began progressing more rapidly. In 2004 the CIA launched its first UAV program called the Eagle program. By 2008 the U.S Air Force had employed more than 5000 UAVs out of which the Predators became one of the most widely known and appreciated fighter drones. The Predator drone was armed with Hellfire missiles and could point lasers at its targets for critical accuracy. The Predator was also used in the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. Between 2005 and 2006, the Predator alone carried 2073 successful missions in 242 separate raids. Predators can be operated via satellites more than 7,500 miles away.
Drones are now being used by more than 50 countries and the market for consumer drones is climbing the graph swiftly. Back in the 1930s, the concept of RC planes for hobbyists flourished and now drones with special photography cameras and GPS tracking features are available to every citizen. It is fascinating how the drone has evolved throughout the century and still keeps on evolving.