An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone and referred to as a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) by the ICAO, is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle.
The typical launch and recovery method of an unmanned aircraft is by the function of an automatic system or an external operator on the ground. Historically, UAVs were simple remotely piloted aircraft, but autonomous control is increasingly being employed.[not in citation given]
They are usually deployed for military and special operation applications, but also used in a small but growing number of civil applications, such as policing and firefighting, and nonmilitary security work, such as surveillance of pipelines. UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for manned aircraft.
The idea of a pilotless aircraft is not a new concept. The concept of drones dates back to the mid-1800s, when Austrians sent off unmanned, bomb-filled balloons as a way to attack Venice. The drone we see today started innovation in the early 1900s, and was originally used for target practice to train military personnel. It continued to be developed during World War I, when the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company came up with the a pilotless aerial torpedo that would drop and explode at a particular, preset time. The earliest attempt at a powered unmanned aerial vehicle was A. M. Low’s “Aerial Target” of 1916.
Nikola Tesla described a fleet of unmanned aerial combat vehicles in 1915. A number of remote-controlled airplane advances followed during and after World War I, including the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane. The first scale RPV (Remote Piloted Vehicle) was developed by the film star and model airplane enthusiast Reginald Denny in 1935. More were made in the technology rush during World War II; these were used both to train antiaircraft gunners and to fly attack missions. Nazi Germany also produced and used various UAV aircraft during the course of WWII. Jet engines were applied after World War II in such types as the Teledyne Ryan Firebee I of 1951, while companies like Beechcraft also got in the game with their Model 1001 for the United States Navy in 1955. Nevertheless, they were little more than remote-controlled airplanes until the Vietnam Era.
The birth of U.S. UAVs (called RPVs at the time) began in 1959 when United States Air Force (USAF) officers, concerned about losing pilots over hostile territory, began planning for the use of unmanned flights. This plan became intensified when Francis Gary Powers and his “secret” U-2 were shot down over the Soviet Union in 1960. Within days, the highly classified UAV program was launched under the code name of “Red Wagon”. The August 2 and August 4, 1964, clash in the Tonkin Gulf between naval units of the U.S. and North Vietnamese Navy initiated America’s highly classified UAVs into their first combat missions of the Vietnam War. When the “Red Chinese” showed photographs of downed U.S. UAVs via Wide World Photos, the official U.S. response was “no comment.”
There are two prominent UAV programs within the United States: that of the military and that of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The military’s UAV program is overt, meaning that the public recognizes which government operates it and, therefore, it only operates where US troops are stationed. The CIA’s program is clandestine. Missions performed by the CIA’s UAV program do not always occur where US troops are stationed.
The CIA’s UAV program was commissioned as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks and the increasing emphasis on operations for intelligence gathering in 2004. This clandestine program is primarily being used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. UAVs collect intelligence in these countries by loitering around their target. The CIA’s first UAV program is called the Eagle Program. It was led by Duane Clarridge, the director of the Counterterrorism Center. This program constructed the CIA’s first using “off the shelf technology,” which included items such as garage door openers and model airplanes.
Only on February 26, 1973, during testimony before the United States House Committee on Appropriations, the U.S. military officially confirmed that they had been utilizing UAVs in Southeast Asia (Vietnam). Over 5,000 U.S. airmen had been killed and over 1,000 more were either missing in action (MIA) or captured (prisoners of war/POW). The USAF 100th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing had flown approximately 3,435 UAV missions during the war at a cost of about 554 UAVs lost to all causes. In the words of USAF General George S. Brown, Commander, Air Force Systems Command, in 1972, ”