According to the Smithsonian Institution, one of the
earliest UAVs was developed during World War I and
was essentially a small pilotless biplane that was
able to deliver its payload more than 50 miles away.
This amazing piece of technology, known as the
Kettering Aerial Torpedo or the Kettering Bug, was
developed in 1918 by Charles Kettering for the U.S.
Army. A rudimentary gyroscope — along with a
pneumatic/vacuum control system and a mechanical distance counter — guided this ancestor of the
cruise missile to its intended target … with any luck.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and 60s that these
vehicles became more than just guided bombs. The
addition of radio controls allowed for the recovery
of UAVs. This dramatically changed the way they
were used by the military: now they could be used
for reconnaissance and data gathering, not just as
disposable weapons of war.
Photography courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution
The National Air and Space Museum (NASM) on
the National Mall in Washington, D.C., has several
UAVs on display, all hung from the ceiling in typical Air & Space fashion. This allows visitors to view
them from above and below, gaining an interesting
perspective of these fascinating machines. The
exhibit ranges from the small and versatile Dragon
Eye reconnaissance mini-UAV at just over 3 feet
across, to the massive DarkStar, which spans a
full 69 feet!
Walking into the exhibit, it’s hard not to notice
the MQ-1L Predator A, built by General Atomics
Aeronautical Systems. The Predator is one of the
most recognizable UAVs since it has played a major
role in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The one on display flew more than 196 missions in Afghanistan.
The UFO-looking RQ-3A DarkStar, built by
Lockheed Martin and Boeing, first took flight in 1996
but crashed a month later during its second test
flight. Two years later a second prototype proved
successful, but in 1999 the project was cancelled,
making this example on display extremely rare.
You might think unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, are a recent
technological breakthrough. But this
really isn’t the case.
Reconnoitering the UAV
exhibition at the National
Air and Space Museum.
BY MARC DE VINCK
The NASM’s Military UAV exhibit includes the MQ-1L
Predator A, RQ-3A DarkStar, RQ-14A Dragon Eye,
RQ-2A Pioneer, RQ-7A Shadow 200, and the X-45A.
The UAV exhibit, while fascinating in its own right,
is just one of many reasons to visit to the National
Air and Space Museum. From the Spirit of St. Louis
to the Enola Gay and the space shuttle Enterprise,
the aeronautical treasures housed here will leave
National Air and Space Museum UAV exhibit:
Marc de Vinck is the product curator and evangelist
for Maker Shed ( makershed.com).