This started with an article in aviationweek.com entitled “The Strange History Of The Word ‘Drone’: Nobody likes the word but is there a better one?”
The article included the photo of Churchill with the de Havilland Queen Bee which after a bit of research I decided to caption ‘the mother of all drones.’
Wikipedia offered up that “the de Havilland Queen Bee was a manned radio-controlled target drone that used Tiger Moth wings and for economy a wooden fuselage based on that of the DH.60 Moth. The Queen Bee was intended to be operated from either floats or wheels.”
Aviation Week’s writer added that:
“It seems most likely that the first use of the word in aviation was by U.S. Navy Cmdr. Delmer Fahrney in 1936, when he was directed to develop pilotless
Then things got really interesting in the Comments Thread.
One reader noted “Within months, two Curtiss N2C-2 Fledgling and two Stearman training biplanes were equipped with similar equipment to the Queen Bee. Soon, the word “drone” began appearing in documents related to the American project. According to accounts, Fahrney himself coined the term drone as a deliberate nod to the de Havilland Queen Bee.”
The Aviation Week article picked up the story with:
“The one thing that almost everyone in the world of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) can agree on is that they hate the word “drone,” which in their view has become clickbait-speak for a sinister agent of robotic death and destruction. But alternatives range from cumbersome to misleading.”
“Drone” spent 60 happy and productive years defining in five letters any crewless air vehicle that was not a missile.”
One reader queried “Drone”? Oh you must mean UAV or UCAV or UAS or SUAS or RPA or RPV or RPAS or UA, … or, oh never mind.
Another asked… So whatever happened to the honeybee drone, who’s only goal was to mate with a Queen bee, only to have his sex organs ripped from his body at the end of the act? The term “drone” has been around a lot longer than the author suggests. Hard to see a connection, though.
Well I think we can back into that with this comment from the article:
“The first alternative to “drone” that gained official approval was “remotely piloted vehicle” (RPV). It emerged in 1970 in the title of a classified conference organized by the Rand Corp. and U.S. Air Force. An official Rand history says the term was chosen “to sweeten the bitterness of the idea” that pilots would be edged out of critical missions—and the same is true of the “remotely piloted aircraft” term used by the Air Force today. “RPV” burst into public view in the pages of both Aviation Week & Space Technology and Flight International in the summer of 1971 and enjoyed a brief vogue.
In the Reagan years, I worked with the USAF Orientation Group producing presentations for use at international airshows as well as recruiting. I remember long hours with my colonels who knew perfectly well that building vehicles that didn’t have to carry and protect aviators, was a more cost effective solution that epitomized everything good about the mantra of faster, lighter, cheaper.
“Unmanned air vehicle” appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology in 1986 and ruled the roost into the 2000s, together with “UAS”—the latter is more comprehensive and embodies the fact that the system is much more than a vehicle. The term was complicated in the mid-1990s by the curious variant “Uninhabited Combat Air Vehicle,” which, once again, was intended to imply that the vehicle was not autonomous but did not have a human operator on board.