Since the dawn of aerial combat, militaries have attempted to reduce the risk of human casualties by taking the pilot out of the aircraft. Nikola Tesla was the first to hypothesize an unmanned aerial vehicle in 1898, five years before the Wright brothers successfully achieved powered flight. Tesla claimed that the U.S. military could use a fleet of tele-automated, pilotless aircraft to aid in armed combat. Elmer Sperry developed this concept from 1917 to 1919 into the Hewitt-Sperry automatic airplane.1 Although Sperry successfully demonstrated the utility of the UAV, his invention, and most others prior to the Vietnam War, could only be classified as either guided missiles or target drones.2
The Pilotless Squadron
Unmanned aerial vehicles ensure fewer pilot mishaps andare operated remotely-so why has it taken so long to integrate them into current battlefield strategies?
By Ensign Daniel Umpa, U.S. Navy