A Brief History of Unmanned Aircraft

From bomb-bearing balloons to the Global Hawk

An MQ-1 Predator over a mountain range in Nevada. (MSgt Scott Reed)

First Reconnaissance Drone


Reginald Denny’s Radioplane Company, which was acquired in 1952 by Northrop Aircraft Incorporated, led the way in post-World War II UAV development. While most of the drones designed and produced during this period were used for target practice, 1955 saw the U.S. Army’s first reconnaissance drone, the Northrop Radioplane RP-71 Falconer (designated the SD-1 by the Army), based on a target vehicle design. Launched by two rockets and recovered by parachute, the Falconer carried a still film camera and could transmit crude video.

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