UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is an aircraft that can fly without an onboard human pilot. It is being controlled remotely by a computer or a pilot on the ground. There are numerous UAV shapes and sizes even characteristics and configurations. This type of aircraft started as a simple remote-controlled aircraft, but as time goes by, automatic control has been developed along with its increasing tasks including military operations and special applications.
The Evolution of UAV
The technology and idea of having an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle started and evolved from World War I’s Kettering Bug and then the World War II’s cruise missiles. Bill Yenne asserts that among of the unmanned or pilotless airplanes during World War I were small and flimsy, which were piston-engine aircrafts. One of the first built radio-operated aircraft was in the United Kingdom made by Harry Folland and another one was built in the United States by Dr. D. Buck, which was a piston-engine biplane chosen for aerial torpedo. Charles Kettering also developed a similar type that was called the Bug in which was the predecessor to modern UAVs. This creation made by Kettering was considered an advanced technology in its era as it has a range of more than 60 miles. The US army was admired by this model and decided to order a large number of units in 1918 to be used as combat missiles during the war. However, this project was stopped as the war ended (Yenne 15).
Two years later, Britain’s Royal Aircraft Establishment created Larynx; it is a monoplane capable of 100 mile range powered by a Larynx engine. As luck would have it, most of the testing done for Larynx took place in Iraq’s deserts. Bill Yenne also claims that even though much of the Larynxes as well as the Bugs were created, they are still far from being the roots of modern UAVs as the line of technology started during 1930s and the Bugs and Larynxes were just isolated projects (Yenne 16).
In 1938, Walter Righter and Reg Denny, whose passion is in radio-controlled planes, were summoned by Air Corps at Wright Field Ohio to develop an experimental RC aircraft that will be used as aerial targets. Two years later, the Air Corps had a contract with Denny to produce numerous RC planes for aerial targets.
World War II Era
When United Stated participated in World War II, Denny and his company’s remote controlled aircraft order went to thousands. In fact, the United States Air force ordered the first model of radio controlled plane RP-4 and was designated as QQ-1 and the first models of RP-5 were designated as QQ-2. Each model is powered by 6.5-horsepower engine. The models were developed up through QQ-14. These firs-generation UAVs have different lengths from eight feet to nine feet. World War II involves numerous types and models of aircrafts that are controlled without on board pilot. The United States Air force also developed an experimental wartime cruise missiles such as JB-2 and JB-10 to compete with Germany’s Fiesler 103. The experiment happened in 1944, but none of these models become operational (Yenne 20).
Between Post and Present Period
After the World War II, United States began to create new models of unmanned aircraft to be used as cruise missiles. The designs were based on Germany’s V1 Rocket, but specifically created for delivery of high-explosives to target a specific area. US military was able to develop the first cruise missile intended to do a surface-to-surface battle. It was named MGM-1 Matador, which was deployed to United States military bases overseas during 1950s. This aircraft was also known as pilotless bomber. Development of more remotely controlled aircrafts did not stop as subsequent models were created between 1955 and 1975 Vietnam War. These Drones were also used by other military forces such as Israeli forces to fire against anti-aircraft missiles in 1973. Additionally, Drones were also used for intelligence gathering and surveillance purpose in 1990-1991 Gulf War. Drones were also used as surveillance for War in Kosovo in 1999 (Birch, Lee & Pierscionek 2).
An unmanned aerial vehicle named Predator was shown at Fort Bliss during an aviation demonstration in 1995. As the United States Air force was impressed with its capabilities, Air force created its first UAV squad using Predator.
In year 2000, the head of CTC or Counterterrorism Center was eager to switch US drones into a more sophisticated, more powerful unmanned aerial vehicle. He wanted the Drones to carry more weapons to fit for an air-to-ground missile attack, which was named Hellfire. That summer of 2000, Uzbekistan gave an authority to UAV Predator to fly over the Afghanistan from its air bases (understandingempire.wordpress.com). No matter what the Predator looks like, there is no doubt that this UAV model changed the military’s aviation history. It helped so much in terms of surveillance and tactic operations that brought victory to the United States. Victory was smelled when the first combat missile over Afghanistan in 2001. That time, United States military owns merely a handful of UAVs. Presently, they own almost 8,000 Drones covering all sizes that are vital to providing intelligence reports, combat operations and reconnaissance.
Before the Predator was introduced, United States military made numbers of experiments to develop a pilotless aircraft as aerial torpedoes. There was also an aircraft that flew and controlled from U.S. Air force C-13OS on reconnaissance mission during Vietnam War (airspacemag.com). These were few of the models that were part of today’s more powerful and sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle.
One of the present time’s UAV model, though still in development, is the Aurora Flight Science’s Orion. This model is capable of MALE or Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance system that will first in military’s budget and long-term operational costs. Similarly to its ancestors, the Orion will not expose the pilot wherever it flies, especially over the enemy’s territory, as it will also be controlled remotely for the pilot’s safety. Additionally, Orion has advanced capabilities such as flying autonomously while completing multiple missions. This advantage will also reduce costs as it will be pre-programmed to do its tasks autonomously. However, this model will be more of a long-range surveillance aircraft as its platform is more lined with Grumman Global Hawk capabilities, which is not as armed as the Predator. The Orion takes on a usual aircraft model with centralized fuselage assembly as well as monoplane wings (militaryfactory.com). Since this is a long-endurance type of aircraft, its fuselage was made oversized as it appears so as to accommodate avionics, mission equipment, and more fuel storage.
"Aurora Flight Sciences Orion Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) - History, Specs and Pictures - Military Aircraft." Military Factory. N.p., 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
Birch, Marion, Gay Lee, and Tomasz Pierscionek. "Drones The Physical and Psychological Implications of a Global Theater of War." Medact.org. Medact, 2012. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
"History of U.S. Drones." Understanding Empire. N.p., 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013. <http://understandingempire.wordpress.com/2-0-a-brief-history-of-u-s-drones/>.
White, Richard. "The Man Who Invented the Predator | Flight Today | Air & Space Magazine." Air and Space magazine. N.p., Apr. 2013. Web. 4 Oct. 2013.
Yenne, Bill. Attack of the Drones: A History of Unmanned Aerial Combat. St.Paul, MN: MBI Pub. Co, 2004. Print.