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Drones? They’re not new.

The engine is the heart of an airplane, but the pilot is its soul. –Walter Raleigh

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, has been a major topic in the United States media – and the world – in recent weeks. This technology is not new, nor has it always been fraught with controversy. The CECOM Historical Office recently came across photos of drones from more than 50 years ago, and we’ll be putting these images on our history blog over the next few weeks.

Drones were invented in 1917, only ten years after the first manned flight.

Drone from 1917, San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives

Even PBS programs like NOVA have aired specials about drones and drone technology.

Journalists like Frank James of National Public Radio compare President Obama’s use of drone strikes with the civil liberties restrictions and violations of the past. From John Adam’s signature on the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts to FDR’s executive order to intern Japanese Americans, James uses these and other examples to support the idea that Presidents, regardless of political party, will go to extreme lengths in the name of national security.

Redstone Arsenal is home to the Army’s Unmanned Aviation Fleet, and according to their website, “Unmanned aircraft systems directly support the core mission of Army tactical commanders by providing near-real time, highly accurate, reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition.”

C-E Museum photo: 1440, Subject: USD-1, Date: c1960

For bibliography purposes, the above image can be cited:

Image #—, “US Army Photo collection, C-E Museum Acquisition” from the CECOM Historical Office archive, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.

The U.S. Army reported on the use and success of drones in combat by scouts on the ground. A scout’s mission is “to travel ahead of infantry units to find the enemy, observe their activity, and provide commanders with firsthand intelligence.” Combining scouting techniques and expertise with unmanned aircraft operation meant that Soldiers were no longer so far away from help, if needed.

It is not only the U.S. military that is using drones. Police departments in cities use unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, that are specially authorized by the FAA. Miami, Houston, Seattle, and many smaller cities all have drones, and the FAA expects another 15,000 drones will be put into use during this decade.

Interestingly, Bing maps might have come across the location of a Saudi Arabian drone base.

Over the next few weeks, the CECOM history blog will feature additional photos of historic drones. Check back for more 60 year old images of unmanned aircraft technology.

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