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The Complete History of Drones (1898-2023) - INFOGRAPHIC

Updated in 2023 by Paul Posea

The history of drones has mixed origins and stories from both the world of military development as well as consumer radio controlled quadcopters or planes.

Let’s find out in detail where it all began and how modern drones of all types have evolved with the help of the infographic below.

There are even more details about each year after the infographic ends with specifics about the drone technology of that period.

image 49

1898 - First Radio - Controlled Boat by Nikola Tesla

nikola tesla remote controlled boat picture

Nikola Tesla is testing his radio controlled boat for the first time in a New York pond in Madison Square Garden, to the amazement of the crowd. He was able to even control the lights on his RC boat, making the people think he was either a magician or that a small monkey was inside, controlling the craft.

This is the beginning of every radio-controlled aircraft as we know it today, thanks to the genius of Tesla.

1916 - First UAV developed by Britain - Aerial Target

 Britain’s Aerial Target, a small radio-controlled aircraft, was first tested in March 1917 while the American aerial torpedo known as the Kettering Bug first flew in October 1918. Although both showed promise in flight tests, neither were used operationally during the war.

britain aerial target drone

1920 - First Quadcopter - Omnichen 2

De Bothezat Quadrotor omnichen2.jpg

Etienne Omnichen invented the first working quadcopter, called the Omnichen 2 and it managed to fly for 360m, establishing a new world record. In the same year he flew for 1 km circle in 7 minutes and 40 seconds.

People were looking for an alternative to helicopters,as their tail rotor consumes between 10-15% of the engine power without generating any thrust.

1935 - Inception of the term “drone”

It's thought the term 'drone' started to be used at this time, inspired by the name of one of these models, the DH.82B Queen Bee. Radio-controlled drones were also manufactured in the United States and used for target practice and training.

dh 82b queen bee first drone winston churchill

The Queen Bee is considered by many to be the first modern drone, even though it looked more like a plane.

Here you can see prime minister Winston Churchill attending a flight test of the first drone.

1938 - First successful Model Radio Control Airplane

big Guff

While the first ever Model RC Plane competition was held in 1937, where Elmer Wasman placed third with his RC plane “White Mistery”, the RC planes were facing serious controllability issues. 

In 1938, the first successful RC model plane was seen flying. It’s called “Big Guff” and it was built by the Walt and Bill Good. For trivia purposes, it also appeared in a film by the Academy of Model Aeronautic that I have posted down below.

1943 - Beginnings of FPV Flight (first person view)

Boeing and the US Airforce collaborate to create the first example of a first person view drone called the BQ-7.  This was essentially an older large bomber plane, that still required manned flight to get close to the target, but once the pilot ejected, it could be guided through an FPV system to the target and explode all its contents.

bq7 plane fpv

1956 - Convertawings model A quadcopter

convertawings model A quadcopter

Seen at the time as a potential replacement for helicopters, the Convertawings Model A quadcopter was seen as the first successful model that could mainstream the quadcopter model. Unlike classical helicopter design, the 4 rotor system is much more efficient when it comes to fuel consumption and overall controllability.

Why are we not seeing quadcopters in the sky instead of helicopters? 

Well, the processing power at the time was not enough to be able to control all the four rotors at the same time. These days we have ESC's (Electronic Speed Controllers) that handle the speed at which the motors rotate.

1960 - Boom in model RC Planes

Thanks to miniaturized transistor technology, model RC planes had a dramatic boom in sales during this decade and got popularized by hobbyists. This was perhaps the boost needed to speed the development of today's commercial RC tech.

rc model 1960 cover magazine

1996 - Famous Predator US drone was introduced

us predator drone

Probably the easiest to recognise military drone to this day is the famous Predator, which was used in Afghanistan to launch missles and search for Osama Bin Laden. The drone operated at an altitude of 25,000 ft and had a maximum range of 740km, while being able to fly for 40 hours.

2006- First commercial drone permit by FAA - DJI was founded

First industrial and commercial uses of quadcopters and other UAVs had it’s infancy with the first commercial drone permit released by the FAA. For the following 8 years they issued an average of 2 permits per year.

The same year, Frank Wang, a mainland-born student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has an idea to revolutionize how useful quadcopters are for the mainstream population. The company is called DJI.

dji founder picture

2010 - Parrot Controls a drone with a Smartphone

parrot controlling a drone with a smartphone for the first time AR drone

The french drone manufacturer Parrot unveiled it’s AR Drone, the first of its kind to be controllable directly from a smartphone.It had self stabilizing gyros and an FPV camera.

2013 - DJI phantom 1 is released

The iconic DJI Phantom 1 is released and began the modern drone craze. It could hold a gopro and be controlled from afar, all coming for a great price. The shape of the Phantom drone becomes synonymous to how consumer drones are perceived.

dji phantom 1 release

2013 - Drones are being considered as a delivery method

amazon drones as delivery method

The likes of Jeff Bezos with Amazon and other delivery companies like FedEx and UPS declare their intention to use drones for delivering their products in record times though airborne means. The only issue is that the technology, battery life and regulation hasn’t yet caught up with their ambitions.

2015 - First Smart Consumer Drones - DJI Phantom 3

The Phantom 3 is released and becomes one of the best sold consumer drones in history. It comes with a stabilized 4k camera, the ability to see FPV feed on your phone and fly it for up to 5 km and 23 minutes battery life, which made it the best choice at the time by far. 3DR also released a revolutionary drone that worked with the GoPro Hero and had many Smart flight modes never seen before.

dji phantom 3 launch history

2016 - Autonomous Passenger Drone Car - Ehang

ehang drone car

Another Chinese tech company called Ehang develops the first working Autonomous Passenger Drone Car that looks futuristic and very promising.

A passenger could be transported anywhere for up to 23 minutes and it worked with an electric motor and batteries.

2016 - DJI Mavic Pro - First Foldable consumer drone

The DJI Mavic was a revolutionary drone that introduced the working concept of a foldable consumer quadcopter for the first time. This meant it was one of the most portable quadcopters ever made, while not compromising on any features, including camera gimbal stabilization and a long flight time. All while being easy to fit in any backpack.

dji mavic pro history

2018 - Use of Drones Grows Rapidly

use of drones grows

Drones like The Mavic Air, Mavic 2 and DJI’s competitors, like Autel and Parrot continue to release new models and grow both in the hobby sector as well as the professional drones sectors.

2019 - Under 250 gram limitation (Mavic Mini)

The US and many European countries release new drone regulations that state any drone over 250 grams has to be registered. In response, DJI released the Mavic Mini, a 4k stabilized drone under 250 grams that has unprecedented features for such a small quadcopter and revolutionized the industry once again.

dji mini 2 hold in hand under 250g history

2020-2021 - Drones help in the pandemic

drones help in pandemic

Drones have been a staple during the coronavirus outbreak, helping with medical supply deliveries, police work in social distancing and quarantine.

Police uses them to maintain social distancing and firefighters use drones to find entry spots in buildings without putting themselves in the harms way.

How did the Drone Get Its Name?

The word "drone" originally referred to male bees that do not have a stinger and are known for their low humming sound. The term was later applied to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) due to the similar sound they make when in flight.


When did drones become popular?


Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles. It wasn't until the early 2010s that they really started to gain popularity. One major factor in this was the release of consumer drones like the Parrot AR.Drone and DJI Phantom, which made it possible for anyone to fly a drone with relative ease.

As these drones became more affordable and accessible, people began using them for a wide variety of purposes, from aerial photography and videography to surveying land and inspecting infrastructure. Drones also proved to be valuable tools in industries like agriculture, where they could be used to monitor crops and gather data on soil conditions.

Who created the quadcopter?

The first flying quadcopter, as we know it today, is difficult to pinpoint to a specific individual or company. However, the earliest known example of a quadcopter dates back to 1920s France, when Etienne Oehmichen built and flew a helicopter with four rotors that was powered by an internal combustion engine.


What is the future of drones?


Drones have already revolutionized a number of industries, including agriculture, construction, and even search and rescue operations. In agriculture, drones equipped with sensors and cameras can help farmers monitor crop health and identify areas that need attention. This can lead to increased yields and more efficient use of resources like water and fertilizer.

In the construction industry, drones are being used for everything from surveying land to monitoring job sites for safety hazards. They can also be used to create 3D models of buildings and other structures, which can help architects and engineers design more efficiently.

And in search and rescue operations, drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras can help locate missing persons or people stranded in remote locations. They can cover large areas quickly and provide rescuers with valuable information that can save lives.

As drone technology continues to advance, we can expect to see even more exciting applications in the future. For example, companies like Amazon are already testing delivery drones that could potentially revolutionize the way goods are transported around the world. And as autonomous flight technology improves, we may eventually see drones used for things like personal transportation or even air taxis!

Know more about what makes up a drone that can withstand the ever-changing progression of technology through this article.

First drone that can carry a human: EHang 184

The idea of a drone that can carry a human is certainly exciting and has the potential to revolutionize transportation. However, there are still many technical and regulatory hurdles that need to be overcome before this becomes a reality.


The first challenge is developing drones that are capable of carrying the weight of a human safely and efficiently. This requires advances in battery technology to provide sufficient power, as well as improved propulsion systems and control mechanisms.

Another challenge is ensuring safety for both the passengers and people on the ground. There would need to be strict regulations around air traffic control, as well as safety features built into the drones themselves, such as redundancy systems and parachutes.

Despite these challenges, there are already companies working on developing manned drones for commercial use. For example, Chinese company EHang has developed an autonomous passenger drone called the EHang 184, which has completed successful test flights with passengers in Dubai.

It's an exciting development for sure, but we're still some way off from seeing manned drones become a common sight in our skies. Nonetheless, it's an area of technology that will continue to be closely watched by industry experts and enthusiasts alike!

Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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