The Dawn of the Drone

From the Back-Room Boys of World War One

Steve Mills

This is the story of the first ever drones, invented during World War I by maverick inventor Dr Archibald Low and his genius backroom boys for the Royal Flying Corps.
Date Published :
December 2019
Publisher :
Illustration :
Up to 100 images
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Hardback
ISBN : 9781612007892
Pages : 336
Dimensions : 9 X 6 inches
Stock Status : In stock
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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.

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.


"A focused and engaging look at one arena of behind-the-scenes scientific research and the larger-than-life personalities who populated it."

- Booklist

"... the author has clearly carried out a tremendous amount of research and has a real enthusiasm for the period."

- Military History Matters

"...readers curious about some of the technical innovation in Great Britain during World War I will be rewarded by Mills’ incredible research, particularly with regard to patents."

- Air Power History

"It is a fascinating glimpse into the people who were involved and the situation in which they found themselves...a must-read for history buffs and a fascinating look into life and technology of 100 or more years ago and the intrepid innovators of that time."

- Model Aviation

'This slice of largely-forgotten military history shows us the high-tech airborne hunters we imagine when we think of military drones remarkably taking flight over a century ago. Steve Mills’ book is a fascinating exploration of some magnificent men and their flying machines.’

- Stephen Gallacher, The Sunday Post

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