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Time Line of UAVs


Battle Plan Under Fire homepage

RQ-1 Predator (USA)

With their strange silhouettes and awe-inspiring capabilities, today's unmanned aerial vehicles, like this Predator, seem to have flown in from the future. But the Predator and the dozen other operational UAVs in the U.S. military arsenal are only the most recent and advanced installments in a century-old history of unmanned warfare and surveillance from the skies. Here, get to know 21 UAVs from the Civil War to the present, and beyond.—Lexi Krock



Pre-aviation UAVs

Years before the first manned airplane flight on December 17, 1903, primitive UAV technology was used for combat and surveillance in at least two wars. View UAVs

Perley's Aerial Bomber (USA) Eddy's Surveillance Kite (USA)
1910s

During World War I, the first UAVs took flight in the U.S. Though the success of UAVs in test flights was erratic, the military recognized their potential in combat. Armistice arrived before the prototype UAVs could be deployed in earnest. View UAVs

Sperry Aerial Torpedo (USA) Kettering Aerial Torpedo (USA)
1930s

For more than a decade after the end of World War I, development of pilotless aircraft in the U.S. and abroad declined sharply. By the mid-to-late 1930s, new UAVs emerged as an important combat training tool. View UAVs

DH.82B Queen Bee (UK) Radioplanes (USA)
1940s

During World War II, Nazi Germany's innovative V-1 demonstrated the formidable threat a UAV could pose in combat. America's attempts to eliminate the V-1 laid the groundwork for post-war UAV programs in the U.S. View UAVs

V-1 (Germany) PB4Y-1 and BQ-7 (USA)
1960s

From their early use as target drones and remotely piloted combat vehicles, UAVs took on a new role during the Vietnam War: stealth surveillance. View UAVs

AQM-34 Ryan Firebee (USA) D-21 (USA)
1970s

The success of the Firebee continued through the end of the Vietnam War. In the 1970s, while other countries began to develop their own advanced UAV systems, the U.S. set its sights on other kinds of UAVs. View UAVs

Firebee 1241 (Israel) Ryan SPA 147 (USA)
1980s

During the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, the Israeli Air Force, an aggressive UAV developer, pioneered several important new UAVs, versions of which were integrated into the UAV fleets of many other countries, including the U.S. View UAVs

Scout (Israel) Pioneer (USA)
1990s to Today

UAVs command a permanent and critical position in high-tech military arsenals today, from the U.S. and Europe to Asia and the Middle East. They also play peaceful roles as monitors of our Earth's environment. View UAVs

Firebird 2001 (Israel) Pathfinder (USA)
DarkStar (USA) RQ-1 Predator (USA)
RQ-4 Global Hawk (USA) Helios (USA)
The Future

The surveillance UAVs of tomorrow may evolve into MAVs, or micro aerial vehicles, lilliputian spies so tiny they can take off and land in the palm of their operators' hands. The U.S., Great Britain, Korea, and Israel are developing MAVs for surveillance use in the future. View UAVs

Black Widow (USA)

This feature originally appeared in a slightly different form on NOVA's Spies That Fly Web site.




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The Immutable Nature of War

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Time Line of UAVs

Time Line of UAVs
Explore the history of unmanned aerial vehicles.

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See what synthetic aperture radar can "see" in this interactive.

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How do you render a 15-ton hunk of flying metal nearly invisible?



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