Drone industry has flourished rapidly in the last couple of years. However, contrary to the popular belief, drones are nothing new. You will be surprised to know that the unmanned, remote-controlled vehicles have been around far longer than you think.
The earliest known drone aircraft was developed during the WWI. Named the Kettering ‘Bug’, the unmanned biplane was a bomb carrier that could drop bombs on its target by flying on a pre-determined route.
The Kettering Bug was on its own once the Autopilot was activated. The prototypes of the Bug were successfully developed and tested. But by that time, WWI had come to an end. Nonetheless, Kettering Bug is considered to be a precursor of the modern cruise missile.
In spite of its state-of-the-art design and high-tech autopilot used for the development of the UAV during the late 1920s, the Kettering ‘Bug’ had one major flaw; each operation assigned to the Bug resulted in the loss of a drone and some valuable machinery. Also, there was no way to alter the course of the unmanned aerial bomb-carrier once it took off. Thus, the overall cost of drone warfare was deemed too expensive for practical use.
Around the same time, the military rocket technology had achieved new degrees of perfection. However, the unpredictability of the rocket use remained a big problem. The solution was to launch dozens or even hundreds of rockets simultaneously, in hopes that at least some would wind up on the right target.
In 1909, Dr. Henry W. Walden, a Massachusetts dentist, was the first person to build and fly a monoplane in the US. Walden came up with the idea of a rocket that could be controlled and directed by the pilot once it was launched.
Dr. Walden envisioned a radio-controlled rocket that could be steered by the mother aircraft. The pilot could activate the control (servo-motors to activate the steering vanes on the tail of the rocket) by sending the radio signals.
Dr. Walden was granted the patent for his radio-controlled missiles, but it never became official because he never paid the fee owing to the evident lack of interest of the US government.
In 1957, Dr. Walden donated the model of his rocket to the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum. It has never been put on display.