Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: The History Goes Back Further Than You Would Think!

Applied Technology Institute (ATI Courses) is scheduled to present the following courses on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Guidance & Control May 20-22, 2014 Columbia, MD
Unmanned Air Vehicle Design Apr 22-24, 2014 Dayton, OH

I’ve always thought that UAV technology was the invention of the end of the 20th century looking something like the video below.

How wrong I was!


I think our readers will find the information below quite interesting.

Austria was the first country to use unmanned aerial vehicles for combat purposes. In 1849, the Austrian military attached explosives to five large balloons and sent them to attack the city of Venice. Some of the balloons were blown off course, but others managed to hit targets within the city.

The concept of pilotless aerial combat units resurfaced during World War I when military scientists began building devices such as the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. This craft was essentially an airborne bomb and was controlled using gyroscopes. After witnessing the capabilities of the Automatic Airplane, the U.S. military began working on precursors to modern cruise missiles called aerial torpedoes. The first aerial torpedo was dubbed the Kettering Bomb. Developed in 1918, the Kettering Bomb could be guided by an onboard gyroscope toward targets located up to 75 miles from its launch point.

Aerial Torpedo attached to AircraftAerial Torpedo attached to Aircraft

A British World War I veteran namedReginald Denny opened a model plane shop in Hollywood in 1934. Denny eventually began producing radio-controlled aircraft that could be used for training purposes by anti-aircraft gunners. The Army hired Denny and produced thousands of drones for use during World War II. The Navy also began producing radio-controlled aircraft around this time. In 1942, a Navy assault drone successfully hit an enemy destroyer with a torpedo.

After World War II, Reginald Denny’s company continued to build target drones for the U.S. military. The drones became increasingly advanced to keep up with manned combat aircraft. During the Cold War, some of these drones were converted for reconnaissance purposes. Based on the successful Ryan Firebee target drone model, the Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug series of drones was used to spy on targets in China, Vietnam, and Korea in the 1960s and ’70s. The Soviet Union developed its own photo reconnaissance drones, although little is known about these devices. Drones were also used as decoys during combat operations.

Unmanned aircraft vehicles were largely seen as impractical, unreliable, and expensive until 1982 when Israel successfully used the devices against the Syrian Air Force. The Israeli Air Force used the drones for video reconnaissance, distractions, and electronic jamming of Syrian equipment. They were also used to destroy Syrian aircraft without risking the lives of Israeli pilots. The success of Israel’s UAV project convinced the United States military to start developing more unmanned aircraft. The U.S. now has a large fleet of UAVs used to deceive detection systems such as radar and sonar.

General Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAVGeneral Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAV

The General Atomics Predator RQ-1L UAV was used extensively during Operation Iraqi Freedom as well as operations in Afghanistan. The Predator was initially designed for reconnaissance purposes, but attaching Hellfire missiles and other weaponry made it an effective way to destroy enemy targets. Today, the military continues to improve UAVs with photovoltaic cells and other modern technology. Drones are also used domestically for surveillance, disaster relief, immigration control, and law enforcement.


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