As surprising as it may sound, the first-ever drone was introduced over 170 years ago.
But since then, we have seen a drastic transition from drones fulfilling military purposes to becoming a commercial product.
How and why this has happened requires a brief history lesson that will blow your mind. Are you in?
Early drone technology history
To get our facts right, a "drone" refers to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), meaning that a pilot is not needed onboard to operate.
By this definition, unmanned vehicles have been around for quite a while.
The history of military drones from the 1800s
Believe it or not, the military gets all the credit.
By being the first to recognise the potential of a drone and applying its incredible innovation, the UAV was invented for all sorts of military purposes.
In the form of balloons, torpedoes and aerial targets, the military used UAVs for target practice, airstrikes, bomb detection, surveillance etc.
The Austrian army in 1839 was the first to use a bomb balloon to attack Venice, but it was not as successful as they imagined.
World War I
During World War I in 1916, Great Britain UAV fanatics were inspired by Nikola Tesla, the so-called 'magician' who developed a radio-controlled craft. This led to the first winged aircraft, known as the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target.
After a series of failed launches, the flying bomb did not meet the British military's expectations and was soon abandoned as a tool for an attack.
But little did they know, only a year later, the US Army would propose a successful alternative: the Kettering Bug.
Nicknamed the 'Bug' purely because it would fly to a specific distance for the engine to stop, detach the wings and fall to the ground with roughly 180 pounds of explosives.
Definitely not the typical bug we would see flying around!
World War II
Throughout World War II, the drone industry saw substantial technological advancements. A variety of drones were being used worldwide to train aircraft gunners and support missions.
For example, the actor Reginald Denny founded a Radio Plane company that sold around 70,000 drones for the US Army - a massive figure for the 1940s!
Regardless of this, many people were sceptical of the reliability of drones, which led to the pause of its research and innovations until the Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War
It wasn't until the Vietnam War in 1955 that the United States invested in the development of drones. They started using UAV's to reduce overseas deaths of American personnel.
This was deemed justifiable in such circumstances, especially after the Soviet Union took down an American spy plane. This reinforced the use of drones, even more aiding naval missions.
Statistics have shown that more than 3,000 drones were used for security, safety and surveillance purposes during this war.
The 70s, 80s, & 90s
Roughly simultaneously, the use of drones as decoys arrived in Israel for the Yom Kippur War.
These two were prioritised for surveillance and scouting as means to increase awareness of their surroundings.
Consequently, during the 80s and 90s, the United States funded the development of advanced drone technology, leading to higher-end products.
As a result of this, over 20 countries own drones for weapon purposes.
Commercial drones take flight
Moving on from all this military talk, it's time to delve into how drones became a commercial product.
The objective of drones shifted drastically in the early 2000s, motivated chiefly for commercial applications like crop evaluation, border surveillance and other practical measures. Sounds more favourable to me…
Ever imagined a world where drones would deliver Amazon parcels to your home?
Well, funnily enough, that was a promise made by Amazon that completely changed society's perception of drones.
As a consumerist society, in 2013, people started clicking away and ordering these new technological devices for personal satisfaction - it became a new hobby!
Fun fact for you: in 2021 alone, there were 900,000 drones registered in the US for recreational purposes, making sales reach $12 billion.
The majority of the privately-bought drones are for photography reasons, including quadcopters or drones with four propellers with a camera attached to the front. These are relatively cheap, so get exploring.
History of drones timeline
1783 - The first-ever UAV
1849 – Shift to the military use of UAVs
1858 – The first Aerial Photograph with a UAV
1898 – The first Radio-Controlled craft
1917 – The first UAV known as the Kettering Bug
1935 – The development of the first modern drone
1936 – The drone arrives in the US
1937 – The US Navy develops the first radio-controlled UAV
1941 – The Radio Plane was invented
1943 – The Beginnings of First-Person View (FPV) Flight
1973 – Israel begins using UAVs for surveillance and scouting purposes.
1985 – The production of drones in the US increases drastically
1986 – The introduction of the RQ2 Pioneer Drone
1996 – The introduction of the Predator Drone
2006 –The US Civilian Airspace use UAVs for the first time
2010 – Parrot Controls a drone with a Smartphone
2013 – Companies test drone use as a delivery platform
2014 – The beginning of commercial drone use
2020 – Drone use for the Covid-19 pandemic
What's next for drones?
There's a considerable sense of reassurance when asking yourself, "shall I buy myself a drone?". As they've been around for a while, you can trust drones to step up your photography skills. When in the right hands, drones can work wonders.
Even in today's market, drones are being used for extravagant reasons, for example, monitoring penguins in Antarctica or making it rain in Dubai.
Are you prepared for this new world where we'll see drones flying in the sky rather than our precious birds? It's getting real.
Rent or subscribe to your next drone
If this doesn't pique your interest in drones – then feel free to skip over this part.
But if flying robot birds or unique photos is something for you, consider renting or subscribing to your next drone and get started flying right away.
If you're still not set gear-wise, then check out the must-have camera equipment here.
History of Drones FAQ
When was the first drone used?
The first drone to have ever been witnessed dates back to 1783.
When was the drone invented?
The invention of the modern drone occurred in 1935, during World War II.
When did drones become popular?
The use of drones for commercial and recreational purposes became famous in 2013.