Propel RC is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.

Complete Evolution & History of Drones: From 1800s to 2022

By: Richard J. Gross
Updated On: December 31, 2021

Drones have been around for a while now. The first unmanned aerial vehicles were created in the early 1900s by Nikola Tesla and William Crozier. In recent years, drone technology has really come into its own, with amateur drones getting more advanced and popular than ever before.

With so many different types of drones on the market, from mini drones to professional quality, it can be hard to know where to start when you're looking for your first drone or wanting to upgrade yours.

That's why we've put together this blog post that covers all aspects of what you need to know about drones: their History, how they work, safety tips, and buying advice for any budget! 

Initially, drones were developed for military use, but with the recent boom in consumer drones, they are now being developed for commercial purposes as well. The History of drones shows that even though initial interest in drone technology was military, there are many uses for commercial drones today.

The historical origin of commercial drones can be traced to Otto Lilienthal, who is given credit for building the first working manned glider recorded on video and documentation (1891).

The History of drones and toy drones shows that, like most modern technology, the History of both has its roots set firmly in military use.

The History of Toy Drones goes back all the way to 1907 when a patent application was filed by Percy Sperry for the earliest known wind and string controlled flying machine - later called a kite plane.

Since the first patent application for a kite plane, drones have come on in leaps and bounds. The History of Toy Drones is one of evolution rather than revolution.

Many aspects of toy drone technology today hark back to designs that were created decades ago, but with modern materials, they are now able to fly impressively long distances.

When Was The Idea of Drones First Conceived?

Drones may be traced back to 1849 when Austria assaulted Venice with unmanned balloons packed with explosives. At the turn of the 20th century, Nikola Tesla was another important name in drone history when he developed an unmanned aerial vehicle that was controlled remotely with a wireless power beam to transport pictures and information over short distances.

The technology he created was designed to go virtually undetected, and Tesla's remarkable invention is said to have been the first unmanned aerial vehicle.

History of Drones: The First Drone

In 1907, Percy Sperry flew a radio-controlled kite plane. In 1916, Archibald Low as the first director of the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, created a radio-controlled electric drone by adding a gyroscope to the control system and igniting explosives in an engine behind the pilot.

The patent application for a Kite Plane was filed at least three years earlier, in 1904, which makes it clear that these two inventors were not working together.

The early 1900s saw great strides being made with both military drones and toy drones. In 1917, Archibald strove to create an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used for bombing missions but due to lack of funds from the British, and this did not come to fruition.

The History of Toy Drones is largely one of trial and error, with relatively small steps being made each decade, but it is notable that both France and Germany also recognized the potential military applications of unmanned aerial vehicles during this time period too.

During World War I, the Pigeon-Guided Missile was developed in an attempt to guide missiles using a pigeon as the controller.

This method proved ineffective when it came to accuracy, so better technology was needed to allow such weapons to be used successfully.

The first drone attack occurred when drones were launched against German targets in 1918 by the United States Post Office, who hoped that they could use them for reconnaissance purposes.

History of Drones: Modern Drones

The first modern drone was developed for the military but purposes by the royal army of the Netherlands as an alternative to artillery. Up until this point, most drones were remotely controlled by a pilot on the ground. These new so-called 'Fairey Rotors' were able to fly themselves, and they used gyroscopes to help control flight.

History of Drones DH.82B Queen Bee aircraft

When the Royal Air Force was formed in 1918, the United Kingdom needed a method for training pilots that was both effective and efficient. Towing gliders behind crewed planes was a popular method of practicing target practice.

That approach, however, did not provide a realistic simulation of engaging hostile fighters in real combat. Following the DH. 88's appearance, the De Havilland DH.82B Queen Bee aircraft was used as a low-cost radio-controlled drone for aerial target practice. It is regarded by many to be the first modern drone, although there are other claimants.

Also Read: The 4 Best Mini Drones In 2023: Best Camera & Long Battery

Entry of US Army in The Drone Battle

In 1936, Admiral William H. Standley, a commander of the United States Navy, witnessed a test flight of the Queen Bee. He was so impressed with the advances in radio control that he ordered the development of a similar system for use in combat training.

History of Drones the queen bee

The resulting QF-2 Drone was used by the Navy starting in 1940 and later by the United States Army Air Forces during World War II to provide targeting practice for anti-aircraft gun crews.

Lieutenant Commander Delmar Fahrney was given the responsibility to develop a drone just like the UK's Queen Bee and the US's QF2.

He is credited with developing a radio-control system that can control up to seven aircraft at one time. These drones were called Firebees, and they played a crucial role in the Vietnam war as spies who gave crucial information back to base.

These early drones were controlled using either cables or radio links where they could be flown in real-time. At first, most drones were target aircraft or drone surveillance aircraft with little capability, but this would change when newer generations of unmanned aerial vehicles were created with ever more advanced technology.

How did the Camera get on the Drones?

During the 1980s, drone technology started to be used for civilian purposes, and they were used more and more frequently in fields such as filmmaking. By this point, drones were already equipped with cameras, but their capabilities were limited due to battery life and camera quality of the time.

There was also a need for small-sized drones that could be easily flown, and these miniaturized systems could only carry smaller payloads such as cameras.

The cameras were installed on the drones for surveillance purposes, not for shooting movies. The civilian use of the drones and their camera came into place a lot later than their military use. It was the CIA that used Unmanned drones as spy planes, and it wasn't until the 1990s that there were advancements in technology that allowed small-scale drone systems to carry better cameras.

Once more advanced technologies such as improved batteries became more accessible, it was inevitable that consumer tech would eventually get involved with drones too.

At first, you had flights that lasted up to 30 minutes after just 5 minutes of charging, thanks to lithium-ion batteries, which revolutionized the size of drones we have today. This meant drones could be developed for a variety of purposes, and they could be used to monitor various places such as fires or floods.

Civilian and Commercial Drones

In 2006 drones were finally liberated to be used for recreational purposes, and they were no longer just for military use. Meanwhile, in 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) brought in laws that made it illegal to fly unmanned aircraft without regulation to protect other people's privacy and safety which later became the biggest obstacle of commercializing drones.

History of Drones Parrot, DJI and 3DR

Many big brands came into the business, and the rest is known as History. The companies that started first with civilian drones were Parrot, DJI, and 3DR. Early on, drones were not meant for shooting films, but nowadays, they are used by both professionals and amateurs alike for tasks such as aerial mapping.

Drones have many uses today, including industrial use cases, i.e., inspecting power lines or pipelines without putting people in harm's way of doing so, to farming where drones can be used to improve the efficiency of spraying insecticides onto crops or checking whether crops need watering or not.

You can even use them to deliver food, medicine, and other small packages across cities, which is known as aerial logistics.


The History of drones has been a long and interesting one, with the first documented use dating back to 1849. Today there are many different types of drone models that can be used for both work and leisure purposes.

Whether you're interested in toy drones or professional-grade devices, we hope this overview will help you find the perfect option for your needs.

Richard J. Gross

Hi, my name is Richard J. Gross and I’m a full-time Airbus pilot and commercial drone business owner. I got into drones in 2015 when I started doing aerial photography for real estate companies. I had no idea what I was getting into at the time, but it turns out that police were called on me shortly after I started flying. They didn’t like me flying my drone near people, so they asked me to come train their officers on the rules and regulations for drones. After that, I decided to start my own drone business and teach others about the safe and responsible use of drones.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

magnifiercross linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram