The Dawn of the Drone: From the Back-Room Boys of World War One

The Dawn of the Drone: From the Back-Room Boys of World War One

by Steve Mills
The Dawn of the Drone: From the Back-Room Boys of World War One

The Dawn of the Drone: From the Back-Room Boys of World War One

by Steve Mills


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In the dark days of World War I, when flying machines, radio, and electronics were infant technologies, the first remotely controlled experimental aircraft took to the skies and unmanned radio controlled 40-foot high-speed Motor Torpedo Boats ploughed the seas in Britain. Developed by the British Army’s Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy these prototype weapons stemmed from an early form of television demonstrated before the war by Prof. A. M. Low. The remote control systems for these aircraft and boats were invented at RFC Secret Experimental Works commanded by Prof. Low, which was part of the organization of ‘back-room boys’ in the Munitions Inventions Department. These audacious projects of Low and his contemporaries led to the hundreds of remotely controlled Queen Bee aerial targets in the 1930s and hence to all the machines that we now call ‘drones'.

Starting well before WWI and, for the lucky ones, extending well beyond it, the lives of Archibald Low and many of his contemporaries were extraordinary as were the times they lived through. They witnessed many dawns, the coming of the oil and plastics age and of domestic electricity. They experienced vast social improvements and the pasturing of the working horse in favor of motor transport. They were around for the first epic aircraft flights and with the aid of the very technologies that had enabled the development of drones, they saw air travel transformed from the precarious to the routine. It is astonishing that the origins of the first drones are not common knowledge in Britain and that the achievement of these maverick inventors is not commemorated.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612007892
Publisher: Casemate Publishers
Publication date: 01/10/2020
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Steve Mills had a career in engineering design and development until he retired, after which he has been involved in the work of a number of organizations. His engineering background in aviation on civil and military projects here and in North America has been put to use over the last 8 years as a volunteer at Brooklands Museum in Surrey.

His professional career up to 1975 was with British Airways on the development of the autoland system on the Trident aircraft followed by the work on the modification of military aircraft in North America and in the late 1970s on the development of computer disk drive systems. Back in the UK his subsequent career was on the development of ground based air defense guidance systems.
Steve and his wife Gill have traveled extensively in their 46 years together and now live in Guildford in Surrey with their dog Jake.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements v

1 Introduction: The World's First Drone 1

2 The War and Before 7

3 The Making of Archie 21

4 Work, Cars and the Woods Next Door 35

5 Televista 43

6 Three More Generals 51

7 The Aerial Threat Over Britain 67

8 Fatal Training 99

9 The Bravest Star 107

10 The Industry of Invention 125

11 Archie's Marching Orders 153

12 How to Make a Great War Drone 175

13 The Aerial Target Designers 193

14 The Trials 207

15 A Drone by Any Other Name 217

16 Controlled Distractions 223

17 The Clifton West Affair 237

18 Distance Control Boats 251

19 Determination and Resolution 257

Appendix 1 Archibald Low's Imperial College Record 271

Appendix 2 List of A. M. Low's Relevant Patents 273

Abbreviations 276

Bibliography 279

Endnotes 283

Index 289

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