What is a Drone? – Lets define the word “Drone”

The word drone gets tossed around a lot these days. We see it in the media and throughout our daily lives everywhere (heck, I even called my business Tiny Drones!) and yet we are unable to agree on a solid definition of what a “drone” is. I hope to at least put at least some of this mystery to rest, and tell you all how the word Drone came to be.

First lets look at how the word drone was initially first used. Traditionally it referred to a male honey bee which mindlessly collected nectar for its queen. How did we go from insects to remote controlled aircraft? It actually makes sense when you hear the whole story.

Where did the Term “Drone” come from.

Believe it or not those little bees actually played a big roll in early radio controlled aircraft. In 1935 U.S. Adm. William H. Standley witnessed the British Navy’s newly remote controlled aircraft being used for target practice. It was called the DH 82B Queen Bee. After watching this, Stadly decided he wanted something similar for the US Navy and had one commissioned. Over time he adopted the name “drone” for these target practice aircraft, in homage to the Queen Bee that started it all!

When World War 2 was in full swing, the Navy increased production of the target practice drones; and gave birth to of aggressive assault “drones” for combat based missions.

Overtime the word Drone shifted it’s meaning to take on a Verb’s characteristics. After the 9/11 attacks the meaning became “to convert a piloted aircraft into a pilot-less one.” There was then a large influx of drone based attacks on terror suspects. This caused the verb “Drone” to hold more weight as “droning” became common practice in countries like Pakistan.

Another term that is popularly used today is UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle). This is the correct term for most flying objects we refer to as “Drones” and is generally accepted by the United States Department of Defense.

UAV is a term which cropped up in the mid 80’s. The US Department of defense defines UAV as “powered aerial vehicles sustained in flight by aerodynamic lift over most of their flight path and guided without an on board crew.” UAV’s may be expendable or recoverable and can be used for a variety of combat and intelligence missions.

Historically the best UAV’s have been reconnaissance units used for intelligence surveillance and intelligence dominace against opposing threats. While UAV’s have begun to play an increasing roll in recent intelligence missions, we are only scratching the surface of their capabilities in the 21st century. We may find ourselves in a future where entire wars are fought like a video game.

What about RC Helicopters & Quadcopters?

So now that you have been thoroughly confused regarding the difference between a Drone and a UAV you are probably asking your self “okay, so what is a drone and am I flying one?”. Well it turns out that unless you happen to own a working DH 82B you are in fact flying a UAV. Now what does that mean exactly? Nothing spectacular, just that you are flying a device remotely without any on board crew. Regardless of whether its a small RC helicopter or a giant military grade UCAV-AF.


So there you have it. The word drone originated from the humble worker bee, and has since evolved to describe UAV devices.. What meaning will it take on ten years from now? We will have  to wait and see!

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