The history of drones Wikipedia article starts with the Austrian incendiary balloons of July 1849 as the first recorded use of UAVs for the military.

Was this the earliest record of any UAV, whether for military use or not?


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I have recently written a dissertation on non-military drones and the first mention that I could find for what we would consider modern drones used in a context other than direct military action was when, in 1994, they were used as overhead surveillance for NATO envoys in Bosnia.

In terms of any UAV, not necessarily guided aircraft, the incendiary balloons are the earliest example I can think of, however, carrier pigeons were used as early as 1150 according to Wikipedia, so this may qualify.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice. However would the balloons of July 1849 be considered a "modern drone"? For this reason the article talks about UAVs in general rather than just drones! $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2020 at 20:33
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    $\begingroup$ @user1271772 my research was limited to drones that can be controlled via radio link, so by these standards an incendiary balloon would not qualify. Excellent question, though, the history of unmanned flight is certainly an interesting one! $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2020 at 20:35
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    $\begingroup$ @user1271772 I think I misunderstood your original question to mean only unmanned, yet manually controlled aircraft. I have amended my original answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2020 at 21:21
  • $\begingroup$ I don't see any amendment to the answer (yet) ! $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2020 at 21:23
  • $\begingroup$ @user1271772 has it come through now? $\endgroup$ Apr 14, 2020 at 21:25

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