A History of Targets and Toys
Ironically some of the first drones were target vehicles used in the training of anti-aircraft crews. One of the earliest of these was the British DH.82 Queen Bee, a variant of the Tiger Moth trainer aircraft operational from 1935. Its apicultural name led to the present term “drone.” In the 1940s, the mass production of the American actor and inventor, Reginald Denny, and the engineer Walter Righter’s “Radioplane” target drone led to the widespread adoption of radio controlled aircraft by the military for not only training AAA gunners but also combat roles from the Pacific Theatre in WW2 through to the present day. The “Dennyplane”, a mid-1930s pre-cursor to the “Radioplane,” brought model airplanes to the masses in a post-depression, pre-war U.S. and was an important forerunner to modern drone technology.
The Drone’s Presence in Vietnam
During the Vietnam War (1964- 75) the U.S. Army flew the little-known BQM-34A drone, which racked up some 3,500 missions, at a cost of more than 550 drones lost. The BQM-34A launched AGM-65 Maverick missiles and GBU-8 Stubby Hobo glide bomb. The drone was flown by a ground operator in a remote control van using a nose TV camera: since the weapons were electro-optically guided the operator could switch screen from the “drone view” to the “weapon view” to guide it to the target.
In the 1980’s the world’s armies began to consider further updating of unmanned aircraft in a serious light. The Israeli victory over the Syrian Air Force in 1982 was thanks, in part, to the use of armed drones in destroying a dozen Syrian aircraft on the ground. Then, in 1986 the U.S. and Israel collaborated on the creation of the RQ2 Pioneer, a medium-sized reconnaissance unmanned aircraft.
Fifteen years later, near the end of the first year of the George W. Bush presidency, a small, remote-control airplane called a Predator left a base in Uzbekistan, crossed the border into Afghanistan and started tracking a convoy of vehicles believed to be carrying jihadi leaders along a road in Kabul. A group of officers and spies, monitoring the streamed images from inside a trailer in a parking lot at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, watched the convoy stop outside a building. With the push of a button in Langley, the Predator fired a Hellfire missile at the building, the back half of which exploded. Seven survivors of the blast were seen fleeing to another nearby structure. A second Hellfire destroyed that shelter, too. Among the dead was Mohammed Atef, al-Qaida’s military chief and Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law. Now, after the Atef killing, the modern era of the armed drone had begun. Continue reading “How Drones Have Made War Fun and Easy–2/3”