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A History of Drones

Posted by Conor Ferguson on Oct 5, 2021 8:15:00 AM
Conor Ferguson

Whether you’re a drone enthusiast or someone who simply pilots drones for their career, examining the history of drones is quite interesting. It is logical to assume that drones were developed and refined in modern times. After all, most of us never even heard about drones until the last 10 to 15 years. 

In fact, the history of drones is quite involved and sophisticated...and goes back well over 100 years!

The early history of drones

Although we think of drones by their modern design, build, and applications, the term “drones” really refers to any aerial vehicle without a pilot actually inside the vehicle itself (aka “unmanned aerial vehicles” or UAVs). By that technical definition, you can go all the way back to Europe in the 1800s to see how clever Austrian armies dropped balloons filled with explosives!

Military use of drones is really responsible for the technology and commercial applications we think of today for commercial drones. Early (and continued) applications for military drones include training, airstrikes, bomb detonation, surveillance, airstrikes, and more.

Here in the United States, drone use really picked up during World War I and World War II. Nikola Tesla even wrote about unmanned military vehicles back in 1915. Self-propelled drones as aerial targets were first tested in 1916, and the military put a great deal of energy into further developing the technology between WWI and WWII. 

The public became interested in drone technology during this time period as well, with the first civilian-built unmanned aerial vehicle built by a model-airplane enthusiast and actor back in 1935!

The United States military invested heavily in drones to mitigate loss and casualties during the Vietnam war, and military drone use across the globe increased significantly during the 70s, 80s, and 90s. 

Getting a bit more technical into something resembling the commercial drones we know and use today, we fast forward more than a little bit to 2006, when the Federal Aviation Administration issued its first commercial drone permit. 

Commercial drone use today

As government agencies began testing and using drones for disaster relief, border surveillance, and more, companies began looking for similarly challenging situations where drones could provide critical information. 

As those applications became more refined and commercial drone technology became more reliable and rugged, commercial drones as an industry really began to take off in the 2010s. 

When Amazon first publicly stated its interest in and intent to deliver packages via drones in 2013, interest in drones as a hobby also surged. Most hobbyist drones cost around $2,000, and are made with significantly cheaper components (and far fewer sensors, less sophisticated software, etcetera) than commercial drones like the drones we manufacture and sell here at Wispr

Today’s commercial drones have sophisticated and critical applications that our drones here at Wispr Systems can perform including:

Infrastructure inspection

Commercial drones provide critical inspection data for infrastructure including cell tower and transmission lines, power lines, pipelines, and bridges. 

First responder situations

From police departments gathering information during hostile crime situations and search and rescue operations to fire departments identifying hot spots used to help them extinguish fires, commercial drones have transformed capabilities for first responders


Commercial drones have transformed how telecommunications companies survey, inspect, and monitor cellular towers across the world. 

Wispr commercial drones are delivering exceptional results across the country.

Our drones have been designed and built for the challenging circumstances and terrains demanded of today’s commercial drones. Our drones are proudly built, supported, and serviced here in the USA, and we’d love to help you choose the right drone for your business. To learn more about Wispr drones, contact us today

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