UAV: Info, History, Timeline

What is a UAV?

A UAV is an unmanned aerial vehicle piloted by remote control. Unlike traditional aircraft, these carry no on board crew or passengers. UAVs are also commonly referred to as drones, the two terms have become interchangeable in recent years.

UAVs are generally divided into 6 categories: Target and decoy, Reconnaissance, Combat, Logistics, Research and development, and Civil and commercial. The hobbyist and prosumer drones that we have grown to love are classified as civil and commercial UAVs.

Up until around 2010, UAV development was reserved primarily for military use. Over the last decade, however, UAVs have become prevalent in enterprise data collection, aerial photography, and more recently – with consumer drone hobbyists.

Today, UAV drones have expanded far beyond the military, blossoming into a multi-billion dollar consumer industry. Drone developers have recently aimed their targets at the infinite money-pile that is Hollywood, and created drones specifically for video production. These professional cinematography UAVs are capable of mounting and lifting heavy, expensive Hollywood cameras from ARRI and RED – the industry standards in film and TV production. Cinematography UAVs have eliminated the need for extremely expensive helicopter and crane rentals, revolutionizing the film industry.

Consumer drones have really taken off too. 2016 saw camera equipped drones hit the market for under $100.  What a time to be alive — even kids are flying drones!

Check out our timeline of the evolution of the unmanned aerial vehicle, and follow along as they transform from rudimentary war machines to the camera-equipped quadcopters we fly at home!

UAV Timeline

1849 – Austrian balloons.

  • Austrian balloons are the earliest recorded use of unmanned aerial vehicles. On August 22, 1849, Austrians used balloons loaded with explosives to attack the city of Venice, Italy. The UAV balloons were rather large, twenty-three feet in diameter, and exploded upon impact with the ground. It may be debatable whether or not to classify these as actual vehicles, but since they were the first instance of unmanned aerial warfare, and a precursor to the century of unmanned aerial warfare that would follow, it’s an important event to note.

1916 – World War 1 – Hewitt-Sperry, the first unmanned aircraft.

  • The first pilotless aircrafts were built during World War 1. In 1916, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane successfully flew, demonstrating that unmanned aircraft flights were possible. The Hewitt-Sperry was controlled through gyroscopes. It was intended to act as a flying bomb.
  • Also notable – World War 1 saw the British military use aerial photography of German enemy trenches to aid in their war strategy. The aircrafts were piloted, but this was the first use of aerial photography.

1918 – US Army Develops Kettering Bug

  • Following a demonstration of the Hewitt-Sperry the previous year, the US Army commissioned the development of the Kettering Bug. The unmanned Kettering Bug was also intended to act as a flying bomb, but was much more successful, with the ability to hit targets 40 miles (64 kilometers) away.

1930 – US Navy creates radio-controlled aerial aircraft

  • In the early 1930s, the US Navy began developing the first unmanned aircraft systems that were radio-controlled. They successfully created the Curtiss N2C-2 drone in 1937. The Curtiss N2C-2 drone was radio controlled from a nearby piloted aircraft.

1940 – Radioplane OQ2 – The first large-scale UAV production

  • Reginald Denny and his Radioplane Company won a US Army contract to mass produce their radio controlled aircraft system. The Radioplane OQ2 UAV was manufactured for use in World War 2. Fifteen thousand of the drones were built for the army.

1973 – Mastiff UAV – Unpiloted surveillance vehicle

  • In 1973, Israel developed a series of unmanned aircrafts intended specifically for surveillance and scouting. The surveillance drones were called the Mastiff and the IAA Scout.

1982 – Battlefield UAVs

  • In 1982, Israel’s Air Force used UAVs as a major component of their battle with Syria’s Air Force. The implementation was extremely successful, and because the vehicles were unmanned, Israeli casualties were kept to a minimum while they successfully won the battle. This changed the world’s perspective on the legitimacy of unmanned aircraft systems and how dependable the technology was.

1985 – US – large-scale UAV development

  • In 1985, the United States Military launches a large-scale UAV development program, intended to research and develop the technology further.

1986 – RQ2 Pioneer Reconnaissance drone

  • In 1986, United States and Israel form a joint effort to produce the RQ2 Pioneer Reconnaissance drone.

1996 – Predator Drone

  • The first predator drone is deployed by the United States.

2006 – UAVs permitted in US civilian airspace.

  • A year after Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration authorizes the use of UAV drones in civilian airspace for the first time, in order to search for survivors of disasters. The Predator drone of the time, equipped with an infrared camera, was capable of detecting human heat signatures from a height as far as 10,000 feet.

2010 – Parrot AR Drone is released.UAV Parrot AR Drone

  • The Parrot AR Drone was the first smartphone-controlled quadcopter UAV available for consumers. It was first revealed at the International CES 2010 in Las Vegas. Also implemented for the first time, was an IOS application that acted as a control system. The AR Drone was 22 inches (57cm) in diameter, a size that was manageable for consumer use.

2013 – DJI releases the Phantom 1 UAV.

  • The release of DJI’s Phantom 1 quadcopter drone, followed by the Phantom 2, saw camera equipped UAVs enter the market for the first time. The Phantom 1 was able to mount a Go Pro, opening a whole new world of aerial photography and cinematography possibilities to hobbyists. DJI’s UAV products quickly gained popularity and made their way into the mainstream market.

DJI Phantom 1 UAV

2013 – Amazon Drone Delivery.

  • Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, states that he plans to implement delivery drones to send products to Amazon customers.

2014 – Film and TV Use.

UAV Alexa Drone

  • FAA permits Hollywood film and TV production companies to use drones on set. At this point, prosumer drones with high-quality cameras are already on the market. In addition, high-quality professional drones that are capable of mounting expensive industry-standard cinema cameras are available from companies such as DJI.


The UAV world still continues to change – and at a much faster pace than ever before. As technology advances, the capabilities and possibilities of drones will expand significantly. Recent months have seen the SELFLY drone camera case and the bee drone UAV take flight. Innovation is everywhere, and the sky is truly the limit.

The future looks bright for the UAV, we hope you’re as excited as we are to see what’s in store!


  1. With their strange silhouettes and awe-inspiring capabilities, today’s UAVs, like this Predator, seem to have flown in from the future.

  2. The first time UAVs were used as proof-of-concept of super-agility post-stall controlled flight in combat-flight simulations involved tailless, stealth technology-based, three-dimensional thrust vectoring flight control, jet-steering UAVs in Israel in 1987.


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