What is a drone? The FULL definition of drone

what is a drone the full definition of drone

What is a drone? We talk so often about drones on this website that we take the term for granted.  But what is the drone definition and where does the term come from? In the Oxford English Dictionary, drone is defined as a “remote-less controlled piloted aircraft or missile”. This definition reflects the way unmanned aerial vehicles were born and how they were mostly used. As you may expect, they were born for military use, and for the most part, they are still used as weapons. We do not want to get into the debate on how ethical that is. We just hope that they’re going to be used for fun/hobby/civil applications more and more. It’s worth, though, having a look at a few key dates in the history of drones and quadcopters.


Austrian launched some 200 pilotless balloons mounted with bombs against the city of Venice.



During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. military fitted a camera to a kite, producing the first ever aerial reconnaissance photos. In the same year, Nikola Tesla demonstrates the remote control of vehicles with radio signals.

Drone meaning


A four-rotor helicopter designed by Louis Breguet. This was the first rotary wing aircraft to lift itself off the ground.

Hewitt-Sperry Automatic (“flying bomb”), demonstrated the concept of unmanned aircrafts.

The “Aerial Target” was first launched in March 1917 from the rear of a truck in England.
Elmer Sperry, together with inventor and radio engineer Peter Hewitt, began construction of the radio-controlled “Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane” or “flying bomb.”


Etienne Oehmichen experimented with rotorcraft designs in the 1920s.

what is a drone









Dr. George de Bothezat and Ivan Jerome developed this aircraft, with six bladed rotors at the end of an X-shaped structure.

The Royal Navy tested the Larynx, an early cruise missile in the form of a small monoplane aircraft that could be launched from a warship and flown under autopilot;

The British developed the Fairey Queen radio-controlled target from the Fairey IIIF floatplane. These “dumb” drones were used to test and train combat pilots and anti-aircraft gunners.

Reginald Denny who served with the British Royal Flying Corps during WWI opens a model plane shop on Hollywood Boulevard.

The British-based “DH.82B Queen Bee” biplane RC target was tested. It is believed that the term “drone”  (as in male of the bees) is derived from this vehicle.
“Queen Bee”, the RC target that is believed to inspire the word “drone”.



The term drone is used for the first time by the U.S. Navy.

The US Navy begins experimenting with RC aircraft and uses the Curtiss “N2C-2” drone in 1937.

The TDN-1 unmanned drone was developed by the US Navy; it was capable of delivering a 1,000 pound bomb; but was never used.

The first drone with camera appears the “Project Fox” drone by the Naval Aircraft Factory.
1944 Drones are used against a beached Japanese merchant ship in the Russell Island during WWII.

A Japanese balloon bomb kills six people in rural eastern Oregon. They are the only World War II U.S. combat casualties in the 48 states.

The Globe company builds the piston-powered target “KDG Snipe”. Many will follow. Drones are used to collect radioactive data.
A special “Pilotless Aircraft Branch” of the U.S. Air Force was established to develop three types of drones for use as training targets.


B-17 drones were employed in Operation Sandstone.

Use of drones as decoys.

The “Firebees” were first tested; it could stay in flight for two hours and was capable of reaching heights of up to 60,000 feet.


So again, what is a drone?

The Convertawings Model A Quadrotor roved the quadrotor design and it was also the first four-rotor helicopter to demonstrate successful forward flight.

Drone definition












The Curtiss-Wright VZ-7 was a VTOL aircraft designed by the Curtiss-Wright company for the US Army. The VZ-7 was controlled by changing the thrust of each of the four propellers.


Use of drones for reconnaissance missions.

The U.S. first began to consider sending drones to replace its U-2s in spying missions over Cuba.
UAVs of the Strategic Air Command were deployed in reconnaissance missions in the republic of South Vietnam. Many more drones are used during the Vietnam war.


USAF conducts about 2655 Mid-Air Retrieval System (MARS) catches using drones. During the Vietnam war drones morphed from being “targets” to remote “sensor” platforms.


Bell develops its model D-322 as a quad tiltrotor concept.


Israeli Air Force uses drones in the war against the Syrian Air Force.
The first solar powered UAV prototype is tested (High Altitude Solar, HALSOL). Research on this did not last long as the technology was not mature enough.


DARPA funds a project to build an endurance UAV named Amber, used for photographic reconnaissance, ELINT missions, or as a cruise missile. This type of drones were used till 1990, when the program was cut.

An Insitu Aerosonde named Laima becomes the first UAV to cross the Atlantic Ocean, completing the flight in 26 hours.

The Drone GNAT-750 was flown in the former Yugoslavia to provide overhead surveillance for NATO convoys.

The Predator drones were flown for the first time in the Balkans. The predator becomes the most used drone and future development included use as a weapon.
drone meaning












The Bell Boeing team disclosed the Quad TiltRotor. The design was for a C-130-size V/STOL transport for the US Army’s Future Transport Rotorcraft


Drones start to be used as high-bandwidth data links, to transmit data in real time.

First CIA drone military attack.

CIA conducts aerial surveillance and targeted killings across Pakistan.

Drones start to be used for civilian applications, such as for searching for survivors in disasters.

It is reported that UAVs are used by at least 50 countries, several of which have made their own, including Iran, Israel and China.
Amazon announces that it is developing drone technology to one day deliver mail autonomously.

Facebook successfully completes first drone flight above UK, to test the capability to deliver internet from the sky to remote areas.

With the advancement of technology and the reduction of prices, UAVs are being used more and more for civil applications, including conservation and wildlife monitoring, agriculture, aerial photography and police and fire surveillance. Some other more recreational applications have also made their appearance.

Are you still asking what is a drone ? I think you understood the drones definition

Let’s have a look at some of these creative uses of drones.

1. Beer delivery

Personally, I can’t imagine a better use for them. Check out these videos.

2. Pizza delivery

OK after beer this is probably the second best use!

3. Internet from the sky

As you have probably read in our short history of drones, Facebook is testing the capability of delivering internet in remote areas using solar drones.

4. Playing music

Now that we have beer, pizza and internet, we would not mind some music. Check out these drones playing the James Bond Theme. Crazy!

5. Whale watching

Andrew Duggan, managing director of Insitu Pacific, told CNN that drones like the Insitu Integrator have been used for monitoring marine mammals off the coast of Australia and in firefighting situations. We have already mentioned a use of drones for wildlife preservation in Africa  and many more uses of this type can be imagined.

6. In Festivals

Drone can be used for live performances  (e.g. the Ars Electronica Futurelab in Vienna)

We want to conclude this article on what are drones and their uses with this cool video on future possible uses of drones. Enjoy.



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