Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Drones: The Sky's the Limit-Or Is It?

Academic journal article Technology and Engineering Teacher

Drones: The Sky's the Limit-Or Is It?

Article excerpt

What is a drone? The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines a "drone" as another term for Unmanned Aircraft (UA), Remotely Operated Aircraft (ROA), Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV), and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) (FAAa, 2014). Regardless of the terminology, drone technology has been around for over six decades. Weeks after Nazi Germany attacked the United Kingdom in 1944 with the V-1 missile, the United States began developing a pilotless bomber to attack German-held territories. The U.S. converted B-17 and B-24 bombers, which flew 13 unsuccessful missions. In the 1950s the U.S. Air Force began testing drones for high-altitude reconnaissance of Soviet military and nuclear facilities. An SR-71 Blackbird-type drone was developed for flights over China, and a drone was even developed for missions in Vietnam. It is these experiments that led to the foundation for testing the Predator and Reaper drones--the drones we are familiar with today (Joshi & Stein, 2013).


Present-day drone technology evolved during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military needed strategic technology to follow enemy movements, attack targets with missiles, as reconnaissance for troops to avoid roadside bombs, as well as to deliver supplies to soldiers in the field. Newer drone technologies were first created in an attempt to capture Osama bin Laden. In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton ceased operations to use cruise missiles, stating collateral damage was too high with only a 50 percent confidence in intelligence. The U.S. Air Force began to work on an unmanned Predator surveillance drone. After several years of testing and over $80 million dollars in crashed equipment, drones have been developed as a tool predominantly used in warfare over the last decade. Of the over 300 drone strikes killing more than 2,000 suspected militants outside of the battlefields of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, 95 percent of these occurred in Pakistan, with the remaining 5 percent in Somalia and Yemen.

Literally hundreds of suspected militants as well as civilians have been killed using drone technology. This, of course, brings up the question of morality in such experiences. Killing from a distance "seems cowardly and unfair" (Coeckelbergh, 2014, p. 92). One American drone pilot reflects on his experience that when he fires the missile to kill a target, his hair stands up on the back of his neck, and upon leaving the room of video screens he can still feel his adrenaline surging. This is not your typical sanitized gaming experience. One pilot acknowledges that there is a "disconnect" that occurs while fighting in this "telewar" environment, one very similar to when he flew F-16s, "I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy ... I have a duty, and I execute the duty" (Bumiller, 2012).

Special operations units have developed a warhead fired from a Predator drone capable of knocking down doorways and accessing enemy strongholds. Helicopter drones can transport supplies to troops in the field, and Tempest drones (balloons) release smaller drones known as Cicadas that can glide to the ground collecting data. The U.S. State Department currently has a small fleet of surveillance drones protecting the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. Drones operate in distant places and can be controlled by satellite communications while the pilot sits in a chair with a joystick, similar to interfacing with a computer video game. It is with this in mind that one can consider the development of these weapons as distancing technologies (Coeckelbergh, 2013). The U.S. Coast Guard has also deployed drones, using them for search and rescue missions as well as tracking undocumented immigrants along U.S. borders.

Contrary to belief, most drones are not used for attacks or bombings, as this requires more boots on the ground. While headlines will capture such strikes, most of the drones in use collect intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance known by the military as ISR. …

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