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)

RQ-1 Predator

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(USAF Photo: Senior Airman Julianne Showalter)

The RQ-1 Predator, probably the best-known modern UAV, made its first test flight in 1994. Produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems—based on a design by Abraham Karem, a former engineering officer for the Israeli Air Force—it was designed for “long loiter” reconnaissance work. The RQ-1 has evolved, and today its variants patrol the U.S.-Mexico border, collect air samples for scientific research, and unleash Hellfire air-to-ground missiles on military targets.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Air & Space/Smithsonian contributing editor Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, Highest Valor (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the story of the people and circumstances of Extortion 17 and its downing in Afghanistan in August 2011. The shootdown was the single deadliest incident in the war in Afghanistan. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue. See his website and Facebook page for more information.

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