By World War II, remote-controlled aerial torpedoes, flying bombs, and pilotless planes (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, as we know them today) were taking shape and undergoing testing by U.S. military forces.
In early 1941, the conversion of popular military aircraft of the time, including Martin/Great Lakes Aircraft Company’s TG-2 torpedo bomber and Great Lakes’ BG-1 dive bomber, into remote-controlled missiles was underway. Upon completion in March 1942, the torpedo plane performed a successful aerial attack on a destroyer while being operated by another pilot sitting on another plane at a distance of 10 miles from the unmanned vehicle.
One month later, in April 1942, a pilot flew a converted dive bomber “by television” (the name they gave to the remote-control, human-machine interface) for the first time, crashing it into a raft towed at 8 knots by a tug boat from 11 miles away. After these successful tests, many different military planes were selected for conversion into unmanned, remote-controlled drones to aid in WWII.
Despite these early advancements and successes, it wasn’t until the information age that UAVs really came into their own. UAV development and use continues to grow, not only for mil/aero applications, but also for civilian use. The UAV’s future appears to be bright, but it’s not all “sunshine and roses” as some say, however. With the growing use of unmanned vehicles, it is important to consider positive and negative effects. For starters, UAVs are reported to have the highest rate of accidents of any category of aircraft. Come along with this geek and explore today’s UAVs and the potential impacts they’ll have on engineers, military personnel, and the public.