DRONE AIRCRAFT: HOW THE DRONES GOT THEIR STINGERS
Cruising silently overhead, an unmanned Predator aircraft uses its infrared camera to pinpoint the telltale muzzle flashes from a sniper's rifle. The plane's operators, located half a world away, then unleash a Hellfire missile from under its wing, using a laser mounted beneath the craft's nose to guide the munition into the very window the sniper had been shooting from.
Such missions represent a technological tour de force, but they've played out so often over the past few years that they no longer make headlines. What might be news, though, is just how far back the roots of this stunning 21st-century military technology reach.
The first demonstration of a remotely piloted vehicle took place in May 1898 at the Electrical Exposition in New York City's Madison Square Garden. It was less than a month after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, which, as history buffs may recall, was sparked by the mysterious explosion and sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana harbor. So when the renowned inventor Nikola Tesla used the exposition to demonstrate his "telautomaton"—a small boat operated remotely by radio—the military significance of his creation must have been obvious.