HISTORY OF DRONES (UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES)
The history of remotely controlled/piloted aircraft otherwise known as the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) or the modern day name “DRONES” can be traced to its first use in the war on August 22, 1849, when the Austrians attacked the Italian city of Venice with remotely controlled balloons loaded with explosives.
The balloons were known as Austrian balloons and some of them were believed to have been launched from the Austrian ship called the VULCANO.
Majority of the balloons were able to reach their targeted destinations, while some were blown back by wind or have their directions changed due to the directions of wind.
After the Austrians’ use of the drone balloons, the technology started its journey of evolution to the present day super remotely controlled aerial vehicles known as drones.
However, the modern drones are an advancement of the existing technology, though seemed to be like the latest invention to many people; history has revealed that drones have been invented earlier even before the Golf war in 1991.
Drones which were initially referred to as “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)” were built during the FIRST WORLD WAR to detect hidden military weapons and take videos from a particular height. They were being controlled through a radio system.
The British were among the initiators of the unmanned aerial vehicles and it began when their first drones were made in 1935, an initiative known as “radio-controlled aircrafts” which were used for training purposes.
However earlier before that time, the US army in January 1918 started their first production of drones which were tested and made successful records but they were not able to be improved further before the war which they were intended to be used ended.
Since then, the US had been seen as the leading figure in the production of drones because they had been producing several types of drones which were mostly used for target practices and training purposes after their first production.
THE USES OF DRONES
The wide use of drones started in the 20th century when the military research precipitated many widely used technological innovations, the GPS system was enabled through the surveillance Satellites and defense researchers developed the information swapping protocol that was fundamental to the internet.
Drones were initially built for reconnaissance purposes and was not meant for public use until the para-military adoption of the technology and the modern commercialization of drones.
The first mass deployment of drones occurred in the Vietnam War and the use made it possible to discover the effectiveness of the technology.
Hence; its use for other applications began to spring up, examples were the use of the drones for research purposes, spying, and monitoring operations.
It was during this period that other countries besides the Britain and U.S. began to explore the technology behind the drones.
China and Japan were among the countries recorded to have built successful drones recently, but Israel, France, Germany and few other countries had earlier built theirs which were also found to be successful.
The modern drones have been classified to be faster, bigger, equipped and sophisticated than the earlier drones made during the FIRST WORLD WAR, some have the ability to launch missiles in a precised targeted area.
Modern drones also have the ability to invade a particular zone with bombs for military assaults, besides that; they can fly longer and higher than the early drones.
According to the publication made by an IWM Staff at iwm.org.uk, drone functions and uses have been listed to include; filming, delivery goods, taking photographs, search operations after a natural disaster, and the monitoring of climate changes.
Besides the above uses, their popular and controversial uses are employed by the military for reconnaissance, surveillance and target attacks.
The united states increased its drones and advanced their technology after the September 9, 2011 bomb attack with the aim of assisting their military to cover areas their troops could not go during surveillance, besides that the drones also have the ability to carry out attacks when potential enemies are discovered.
Drones had earlier became central to the U.S. national security strategy which has increased from countering insurgency in the city to counterterrorism from skies.
According to, Ian G. R. Shaw, (2014), “The Rise of the Predator Empire: Tracing the History of U.S. Drones”, the popular U.S. military drone MQ-1 is a science fiction that came into reality.
“The MQ-1 Predator is perhaps the most well-known of all military drones used today. It has a wingspan of 55 feet, a length of 27 feet, and can reach speeds of up to 135mph.
According to the U.S. Air Force, “The Predator system was designed in response to a Department of Defense requirement to provide persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information combined with a “kill” capability to the warfighter.”
Its deadly name conjures the images of a science-fiction dystopia where robots hover in the sky and exterminate humans on the ground.
Of course, this is no longer science-fiction rather the drone made it a reality”. Meanwhile, a BBC publication dated on 1st January 2012 said that drones are used in situations where manned flight is considered risky or difficult.
It said that the US had used drones successfully to carryout précised strike at the militants in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
The U.S. had recorded several successful uses of drones both for military and other purposes and is rated to be the world leading the drone-manufacturing country.
According to understanding empire, the U.S now has fleets of some eleven thousand drones and hundreds of them are weaponized.
The technology of drones has been adopted for the building of commercial aircraft that can carry passengers without onboard human supervision. Though not popular yet, the system is believed to become the future of the commercial airlines upon its perfection.
The introduction of quadcopters into the drone technology has made it more popular making the drones to come in various sizes even to the size of toys operating with batteries and/or solar system.
HOW DRONES WORK (A Video Demonstration of drones’ working principles)
They are remotely controlled vehicles working with radio waves, the operating principles of drones are based on wireless technology just like any other device using the radio waves and electromagnetic waves.
The name unmanned aerial vehicles and drones came from these working principles which are based on the fact that they can be operated without having direct contact with them just as Telephones can receive calls and messages without direct contact the other phone or as wireless microphones can operate without direct wiring or cord.
The principles which drones work with had been existing but its improvement and rearrangement made it possible to be used in drones.
When a drone is to be operated, a control center or location is usually set up bearing the drone’s controlling software or system either in the form of a computer software system or mechanized hardware control system.
Using the system, the drone will be made to fly, hover in the air and move in any direction to carry out the intended operation.
Except otherwise stated, as a wireless system; drones have their limits of distance control that will exist between them and their control units.
Israeli drones have been found to cover long distance control operations and some can stay in the air for about 20hours. Based on that, it is possible to have modern drones with very long-range wireless control.
Another principle that helped the drone’s existence is the principle that made the normal and existing manned aircraft to fly successfully in the air.
Without the principle and possibility of human-operated aircraft being in existence, drones can be just wireless technology in the form of cars or other aspects of technology but not aircraft.
The principle of weightlifting, staying and/or moving in the air against the force of gravity which manned (piloted) aircraft uses and is made possible through the jet engines or the rotor propelled engines installed in the aircraft.
That is the same principle that has been incorporated into the drones making it possible for them to fly as human-piloted aircraft does.
DRONE DESIGNS AND MANUFACTURING PROCESS
Israel being the manufacturer of the most advanced drones in the world has been able to make drones whose sizes and load capacities equal that of the commercial aircraft made for civilian use.
A good example of such drones made by them is the “Heron TP Etan”, which costs an estimated $35 million.
Taking a close look at such drone, one can see no real physical change in design to some of the existing commercial aircraft being piloted by humans.
In other words, drone designs and manufacturing process may not actually differ much to the design and manufacturing process of the manned (human-piloted) aircraft, except that the latter is operated by the humans while the first is remotely controlled.
Aircraft have wings, tails, jets or rotor propellers, streamlined bodies, sensors, and control units, etc. these features can also be seen in drones but their sizes may differ according to the size of the drone.
TYPES OF DRONES
Currently, there are thousands of drones in existence which will make it difficult for anyone to come up with a compiled list of all the drones in the world.
The manufacturing of drones now has almost the same frequency or number to some models of automobiles ever since it became commercialized, for that reason; let’s discuss the popular drones seen so far and their uses.
OQ-2 DRONE: This is the first drone made by Denny’s radio plane company in 1935 and sold to the United States military, it was made at about fifteen thousand pieces and since then became part of the U.S. military technology after using them during the World War. The OQ-3 DRONE became an extension of the OQ-2 drone and was made in 1945.
AQM-34 DRONE SERIES: these are series of drone models with similar appearance built by the Ryan company to the U.S. military in the year 1952 and since had remained one of the most used and popular drones to be used by the U.S.
MQ-1 PREDATOR DRONE: formerly called the RQ-1 Predator was originally designed as an aircraft for intelligence-gathering, surveillance, identifying targets and reconnaissance.
But the drone was improved in 2002 to carry two Hellfire II missiles which made them able to carry out air strikes at a range that is up to 8km i.e. 5 miles. The drone was later improved and advanced to the newest version called “THE REAPER” drone MQ-9 PREDATOR
HERMES 450 DRONE: Built by the British, the British army has used the Hermes 450 in Iraq and Afghanistan during the crises in the Middle East, the drone has also been used by the military to checkmate availability of bombs on the roadsides ahead of their military parades.
This drone has been upgraded to bear the same feature of the modern U.S. MQ-9B PREDATOR DRONE known as “THE REAPER” which will be discussed soon.
MQ-9 PREDATOR DRONE (RAF) : This drone is made by the U.S. and called “THE REAPER” the drone has been viewed as one of the most advanced drones in the world, it is an advancement and improvement of the existing MQ-1B PREDATOR.
Both of the planes have thousands of sensors for their effective operations, TV cameras for video recording, image intensifiers, radar, infra-red imaging for low-light conditions and laser for targeting purposes, among all; they can also be armed with missiles.
Meanwhile, the MQ-9 Reaper has been conceived as a “Hunter-Killer” system because of its extreme accuracy in carrying out an attack and has the ability to carry “PAVEWAY II” and “GBU-12” bombs at the same time.
It can operate at a speed of 370kph which is 230miles per hour and is actually a very high speed, besides that it can also carry out attacks at ranges beyond 8km.
HERON TP EITAN DRONE: this is one of the world’s largest and most advanced drone model, made in Israel, it has a wingspan of 26meters which is the same size of the popular commercial passenger jet BOEING 737 and the drone can stay in the air for more than 20 hours reaching the altitude of 12,000 meters.
The drone has been estimated to cost $35million and has the ability to carry out surveillance missions beyond Iran directly from Israel.-
TARANIS DRONE: The drone has its prototype displayed in July 2010 by the UK Ministry of Defense, an unmanned combat air vehicle which is designed to be able to fend off attacks on the British military as well as perform the intelligence gathering, surveillance and strike roles like other military drones.
It is believed that the drone will become an improvement to the existing British’s HERMES 450 drone.
QUADCOPTER DRONES: This is the first of its kind, a modern model of drone bearing four rotors propeller, very small in size like about 2 feet in its square meter (almost the size of toys) and very stable in its operation. It is the first drone design that popularly became commercialized for civilians to use.
The use of this four electric motors propelled drone has been seen in the movie industries, churches, public occasions, and research purposes. It is also called the Quadrotor helicopter or multirotor helicopter, driven by electric motors powered by rechargeable batteries and/or solar system.
The drone has become very popular because of its affordability and easy operation technics.
The technology behind this drone has led to the development of other electric and driverless flying vehicles such as the EHANG models of aircraft made recently.
Besides the above-mentioned types of drones, it is believed that many have not been included in this post because their data was not accessible or available when the research for the post was made or they are not popular as compared to the mentioned drones above.
PROBLEMS OF DRONES (UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLES)
Early drones have more technical problems than the modern drones, the problems of the early drones include:
MAXIMUM ALTITUDE: The altitude a drone can attain is very important in its operation. The altitude to attain means the height it can reach in the air when it lifts up from the ground.
The law of gravity will always exert a pulling-down force or effect on all flying objects and that includes the drones, therefore; if the drone has more weight with a less powerful engine to propel it upward or forward it may be having difficulty to attain a very high altitude in the air.
Drones with maximum altitude are good for spying work and silent operations since they may not be noticeable when flying across some aerial zones, therefore when equipped with super zooming cameras they can capture images and videos quickly from a far distance in the air.
FUELING SYSTEM: The problem of fueling the power system had been a serious issue, early drones were operating reciprocating piston engines that use fuels like that used by the manned aircraft, due to the quantity of fuel they can carry; the fuel tends to finish quickly thereby limiting the distance the drone would cover.
Modern drones have jet engines propelled system for speed freight, equipped with a sizeable quantity of fuel tanks or built with rechargeable battery (for small drones), solar system or the combination of the three systems thereby making the modern drones to become faster and can fly for hours in the air.
CONTROL DISTANCE: According to en.wikipedia.org, Edward M. Sorensen was the true inventor of a radio-controlled aircraft that could fly out of sight of its operator as was evidenced by his U.S. patents.
His invention made it possible to know the operation of the drone as it lifts off the ground terminal, the other activities like climbing a hill, banking, directions and attaining an altitude, etc. can be remotely controlled from a distance.
It is believed that if the invention was not made earlier by him, early drones could not be able to fly out of sight from their controlling unit.
STABILITY IN THE AIR: Making the early drones to be stable in the air during wind storms was another task, most of them were piston engine propelled drones, and balloon, therefore, cannot overcome some wind resistance when in the air.
Technical malfunctioning usually develops whenever such incident occurs in some of them thereby making the early drones unusable under heavy wind against the intended direction the drone is meant to fly because of their vulnerability of attack by wind storms.
DURATION OF FREIGHT: The Israeli’s HERON TP EITAN drone has been classified as one of the drones in the world that can fly for over 20 hours, such time frame is enough to cover long distance or carry out any serious operation.
The duration that any drone can fly in the air has been a major factor in classifying the drone usability and quality and it also determines its selling cost.
Early drones were not able to have such long duration of freight in the air during their operations and that limited the uses of those earlier drones when compared to the modern types.
SIZE AND LOAD: The size of the MQ-2B and the HERMES 450 drones made it possible for the drones to carry missiles and be able to carry out air strikes.
These types of drones are quite different from the small drones like the QUADROTOR meant for civilian uses.
The early drone experienced the issue of sizes and load-bearing capacity which made them unable to have the sizes of the commercial aircraft like the modern Isreali HERON TP EITAN drone has.
Those early drones cannot carry missiles and their load-bearing capacity is very low as compared to hundreds of modern military drones.
COMPARISON BETWEEN DRONES AND ROBOTS
The modern technology and its fast evolutions have made it difficult for some people to understand the common difference between robots and drones.
Also the idahotv’s publication on the limitations of robots, the robots were referred to as human assisting machines built with artificial intelligence to carry out certain duty on their own but such machines do not have the ability to think like humans rather their actions where programmed into them.
Drafting from the two descriptions given about robots by these writers, it can conclusively be said that robots are self-operating machines that can carry out their programmed function or functions without being remotely controlled like the drones.
While robots need the programmed intelligence otherwise known as artificial intelligence, drones operate with radio waves to obtain their signal before taking any action.
The command issued to the drones through their controlling software or hardware will activate the necessary engines and parts of the drones to take the needed action while in robots the action had been programmed.
Hence the action of drones can be canceled while that of robots cannot be canceled once it has started executing it.
CAN THE SCIENTISTS BUILD FLYING ROBOTS?
A simple question with a simple answer which is “YES”. If artificial intelligence can be installed into the existing drones they will automatically become flying robots.
However, this advancement may have some technicality issues relating to how the program will be written such that the drones can be able to carry out the programmed duty or duties without mistakes.
Notwithstanding, the advancement will also reduce the versatile functions and uses of the modern drones limiting them to only the function or duties programmed into them as an artificial intelligence and such may be risky to use the drones for war or military actions involving human lives.
Philip is a graduate of Mechanical engineering and an NDT inspector with vast practical knowledge in other engineering fields, and software.
He loves to write and share information relating to engineering and technology fields, science and environmental issues, and Technical posts. His posts are based on personal ideas, researched knowledge, and discovery, from engineering, science & investment fields, etc.
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