Friday 11th January 2019

The Imperial War Museum shares that it may feel like drones have only come into existence in the past decade but did you know that drone technology is over a century old?

A drone, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), is an aircraft with no crew or passengers on board. They are either automated or remotely piloted.

They help document and monitor climate change. They carry out search operations after natural disasters. They can even bring major airports to a standstill.

Recent events have shown that drones can pose a disruptive threat to the public. But their most well-known and controversial use is by the military for reconnaissance, surveillance and targeted attacks.

The first prototypes of what we now know as drones were created during the First World War. These pilotless vehicles were either launched by a catapult or flown using radio control.

In 1918 the US Army began to develop an ‘aerial torpedo’ named the ‘Kettering Bug’. By the time it was ready for action, an Armistice had been declared.

Although the fighting had stopped, the development and testing of unmanned aircraft continued.

The Culture Under Attack season at IWM London (5 July 2019 – 5 January 2020) will explore the impact of war against what defines who we are – our culture. © IWM


In 1935, the British used radio-controlled aircraft as targets for training purposes. It’s thought the term ‘drone’ originated from the name of one of these models, the DH.82B Queen Bee – a remotely controlled version of the Tiger Moth trainer.

Drones were first deployed on a large scale in the Vietnam War. Some acted as decoys in combat. Others launched missiles against fixed targets, or dropped leaflets during psychological operations.

Drones have become a defining weapon of the post 9/11 period. The first known lethal strike by an unmanned aerial vehicle or ‘drone’ took place in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the United States in particular has significantly increased its use of drones. They are mostly used for surveillance in areas and terrains where troops are unable to safely go.

Chris Woods, an expert in the use of drones in conflict, argues that drones are central to our understanding of modern conflict.

He suggests that drones ‘”ie into popular imagination and our fascination with science fiction… they’ve become this point at which we engage with modern warfare.”


Find out more by visiting the what’s on pages to plan in your visit(s) for 2019.

Source: IWM

Back to news Subscribe to eBulletin