Although it has only entered common parlance recently, the word “drone” isn’t new, nor does it have anything to do with the insectoid noise of the growing swarm of flying toys of recent Christmases…
We need to journey back to 1930s Britain, when the De Havilland aviation company combined the fuselage of a DH.60 Moth Major with the wings of a DH.82 Tiger Moth and created… “the” Queen Bee. Designed to serve as target practice for British artillery, Queen Bee was radio-controlled – although could also be piloted – and boasted a number of innovative automatic systems. The objective was to “miss” the plane, pointing ammunition at its trail, so it could be reused, which is why Queen Bee had an automatic landing system that was engaged when got close to the ground. Once they were out of radio range, it wasn’t uncommon to find one of these “bees” in a field,… waiting for fuel to return to the “hive”. The radio control system worked with a disc phone, where each number was a function (left, right, boost engine…). The ailerons were locked in a neutral position and only the rudder, elevator and throttle controls were used remotely. The Queen Bee was very successful, and the word “drone” was adopted to designate this type of aircraft in her honour.
The Queen Bee was the first recoverable and multi-mission drone, but the history of remote-controlled flying objects began in the 19th century, when the Austrian army tried to bomb Venice using balloons in 1849. The system failed and the local population took to the streets applauding the involuntary firework show provided by their bellicose neighbours. Nowadays, the explosive potential of drones is primarily economic, used for building inspections, agriculture, logistics and services. Who knows what the result of this increasing cross-pollination between electronic miniaturisation, digitisation and aerial operation will be?
Some Queen Bees have survived. Of these, the Queen Bee LF858 still flies – with a pilot – at air festivals, affectionately maintained by the self-named Beekeepers Flying Group in Henlow, England.
by Ricardo Reis
web design & development 262media.com