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In the chronicles of history, the birth of drones and cruise missiles stands as a testament to human ingenuity, military necessity, and the relentless pursuit of innovation. As we delve into this fascinating journey, we uncover the intertwined destinies of these two remarkable inventions.

The Dawn of Flight and Balloon Bombs 

The use of aircraft in warfare is not a recent phenomenon. The earliest such application can be traced back to the 1840s when the Austrian Navy was deployed to crush Venice's revolt for independence. In what seemed like a reminiscent of an action-packed novel, the navy used 200 Hot Air Balloons each carrying 15-20 Kgs of explosive payloads and bombed the city of Venice. This marked the world’s first airstrike.

Fast forward to the early 20th century, when innovation took a dramatic turn. In 1903, the Wright Brothers made the world believe that humans could conquer the skies by creating the world’s first winged aircraft that was fast and could be manoeuvred by humans. This historic flight was a pivotal moment, setting the stage for what was to come. 

The Kettering Bug and World War-I

With the outbreak of World War-I in 1914, aviation was no longer confined to the realms of curiosity. The United States Army acknowledged the huge potential for these flying machines. Their Aircraft board asked Charles Kettering - an innovator and investor, to create an unmanned aircraft that would take explosives to enemy territory. This would save precious human lives and provide the army great advantage. Thus, In 1918, The Kettering Bug - an early unmanned aerial vehicle was developed. This was a simple design using wood, cardboard, a gyroscope as a guidance system and motor revs to gauge the distance covered. Meanwhile, the British army, in 1917, developed its own unmanned aircraft capabilities known as Aerial Targets. These were radio-controlled aircraft that had their avionics and power controlled by RFC.

Kettering Bug

Both these primitive UAVs showed huge potential but the failure rate was just too high and they could not become a reliable system. Though the UAVs were failures, their contribution to military strategies and target practice was evident. The era of autonomous payload delivery had begun, although in a rudimentary form.

The Rise of the Autonomous Systems

After the World War I, a new era of research & development began in the UAV systems. As the Radio Waves industry matured, researchers ushered into the exciting realm of controlling an aircraft with Radio waves. Using experience from World War I, Britain, in 1935, developed a huge fleet of remotely piloted vehicles - Aerial Target. The fleet was used as a target for various anti-aircraft systems. In 1939, humanity faced another big war - World War II and it brought about a seismic shift in technology. Britain started the world’s first mass manufacturing of RFC Drones. In totality, 400 of these Aerial Target drones were used in World War II to train their navy and army against incoming aerial threats. Radio waves became the new medium for controlling aircraft, paving the way for the emergence of autonomous systems.

Germany, on the other hand, faced a different kind of challenge. As it found itself under relentless bombardment, the United Kingdom showered bombs in the morning, and the United States continued the onslaught at night. To counter this relentless assault, a remarkable innovation emerged. Inspired by The Kettering Bug, an automated load was developed to deliver a devastating payload - a bomb. These early autonomous aircraft had a rudimentary gyroscope for directional control and a basic control system. The bomb was equipped with a jet engine, and it was fired in one direction at a specific angle. As it covered a distance of 160 kilometres from France to London, the propulsion would shut down automatically as the jet fuel ran out, causing it to drop the world's first guided cruise missile - the V-1.

V-1 Rocket

The V-1 was just the beginning. An advanced version, the V-2, soon emerged. This unmanned vehicle wreaked havoc and left a trail of destruction. Its impact was undeniable, and nations around the world recognized the potential of unmanned warfare. At the end of the World War, the Allied forces(USA, Britain, USSR) captured various such rockets and began to study them. The concept of UAVs had started to take the modern shape. The aircraft, which were pre-fed with coordinates to deliver the payload without human intervention, paved the way for modern Cruise Missiles. While those which were designed to have human intervention took the shape of modern Drones.

Drones become Game Changers

As the world realised the strength of this technology, countries raced to master it. Economic and military superpowers such as the USA, and Britain pumped huge money into these systems. Research in this field intensified, leading to the first revolutionary use of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) during the Vietnam War in 1975, thanks to the innovative minds at work in the United States. And so, in the crucible of conflict, the drone was born. 

Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug

Ryan Model 147 was a U.S Army funded UAV developed by Ryan Aeronautical Company. It was a Remotely Piloted Vehicle(RPV) and could be controlled from the ground or the mothership from which it was launched. It was initially developed for reconnaissance purposes, taking photographs of enemy territories. The Lightning Bug took thousands of aerial pictures and provided U.S Army credible intelligence on the enemy positions. Over time, they evolved into the versatile, high-tech drones we know today.

The Modern Age

In the contemporary landscape, drones have transcended their military roots to redefine industries. From photography and agriculture to last-mile delivery and search and rescue, they are reshaping our world. With precise remote control, drones are propelling us into uncharted territories, unlocking unforeseen potential. This modern saga is a story of innovation, offering fresh opportunities and challenges as we embrace the ever-changing future.

The similarities between drones and cruise missiles lie not only in their technological underpinnings but also in the spirit of innovation and adaptability that has driven their evolution.

Both have left an indelible mark on the world, driven by the relentless pursuit of innovation and the ever-pressing needs of military strategy. 

Conclusion: A Shared Legacy of Innovation

In this captivating saga, the histories of drones and cruise missiles are intertwined, their roots tracing back to the pioneers of aviation and the desperation of war. For the drone manufacturers of today, this historical narrative serves as a reminder of the extraordinary journey that has brought us to the present day, where the future of unmanned aerial technology continues to unfold. 

From the early days of the world of aviation and warfare. As we look to the future, drones are on the brink of becoming an integral part of our daily lives, from medical supply deliveries to rescue operations. The story is far from over, and the impact of these technologies continues to unfold. The legacy of innovation lives on, promising exciting possibilities for the world ahead.

The article was sponsored and published by Procurabl - A supply chain for mobility

Wilson Tiru

Nov 24, 2023


The Evolution of Drones and Cruise Missiles: A Tale of Innovation

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