Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that are used by the military in a number of ways, including missile testing, air strikes, aerial refueling, surveillance, transporting cargo, live-fire exercises and even long-range bombing. The U.S. military began experimenting with unmanned aircrafts as early as World War I, but they were called remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) at the time. Today, UAVs are used by various organizations, including the U.S. Air Force, Navy and the U.S. Geological Survey.
The above unmanned aerial vehicle, which has the sinister name of the MQ-9 Reaper, is referred to as a Remotely Piloted Vehicles/Aircraft by the U.S. Air Force. It is operated by ground controllers, while other UAVs are flown autonomously thanks to pre-programmed flight plans.
The above photo of a QF-4 drone resting on an airfield was taken on July 30, 2010, at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz. Drones such as the QF-4 are often implemented in missile system assessments and training, with the drones serving as moving targets in order to test weapons.
This coral-colored sub-scale drone, called the BQM-167 Air Force Subscale Aerial Target, was launched from the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla. Used in the Air Force Weapon System Evaluation Program, the drone served as a shooting target during weapon-testing exercises.
Members of the contracted Florida Offshore crew steady a BQM-167 sub-scale drone as it is lowered onto a cradle. The drone was fished out of the waters off of Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., by one of the 120-foot recovery boats owned by the Air Force. These boats are used to help find and recover sub-scale drones after they are shot down during the Air Force's live-fire exercises.
The unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-9 Reaper, originally named the Predator B, is not only used by the U. S. Air Force, but also by the Navy, the CIA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Above, it is photographed after taking off from the Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan as part of the 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, where it was used in a mission as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The above QF-4, a full-scale target drone, is show flying as it is tracked by a missile at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla. Acting as a realistic full-scale moving target, the QF-4 is mainly used for evaluating weapons systems.
Soaring over southern California's San Gabriel range, the remotely-piloted Altus II is equipped with an air data system as well as a video camera in its nose. Flown from the Dryden Flight Research Center in Edwards, Calif., the Altus II is part of NASA's Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program. Designed for high-altitude, long-duration scientific missions, the drone can reach and sustain an altitude of 55,000 feet for hours at a time as it collects air samples and data.
Unmanned aerial vehicles come in various shapes and sizes, from the Israeli Air Force's Heron TP, which is the world's largest UAV and is nearly as long as a 737 airliner, to the U.S. Army's "Switchblade," a new, sophisticated unmanned aerial vehicle small enough to be carried in a backpack.
The above MQM-107E Streaker, a sub-scale aerial target drone, was photographed flying over the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla. The MQM-107E Streaker was conducting a Weapons System Evaluation Program, also known as a Combat Archer exercise, during which the drone was used as a target.
Also flying over the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla., the above MQM-107E Streaker is flying in formation with an F-16C Fighting Falcon during a Combat Archer exercise.
Photographed flying over the Gulf of Mexico on Jul. 17, 1998, this QF-4 drone is a former fighter jet that has been converted into a remote-controlled drone. They act as realistic moving target for pilots to aim at during training missions where live missiles are launched.
Drones aren't just used for military weapon tests and exercises — they can also be used to conduct natural resources research, such as recording and monitoring wildlife. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been testing the Raven A, a small, camera-equipped aircraft that is about 3 feet long, to see if it can be used to conduct aerial counts of migrating sandhill cranes. The above Raven A was filmed during training exercises at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah.
In this photo, a BQM-74E drone launches from the flight deck of the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship of the U. S. Navy. The exercise, conducted by United States Pacific Fleet in the South China Sea, took place on July 13, 2005. The drone was used to simulate a live-fire aerial threat situation.
Another drone that is used to conduct environmental research, the Global Hawk drone is used to provide scientists with more insight on hurricane forecasting by observing how storms strengthen. By flying close to storms while filming footage and recording weather conditions, the Global Hawk is capable of taking closer and longer looks at storms' eyewalls. Flying at 400 miles per hour, the Global Hawk can reach heights of 65,000 feet while carrying 2,000 pounds of weather instrument.
Photographed at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla., U.S. Air Force Technician Sgt. Ed Stanfill of the 82nd Aerial Targeting Recovery Squadron inspects a BQM-167A aerial target drone on Dec. 22, 2004. The BQM-167A was then used for aerial targeting practice.
The previously inspected BQM-167A aerial target drone was good to go on Dec. 22, 2004, when it was launched at Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base for aerial targeting practice.
Following its launch, the BQM-167A aerial target drone is recovered at the Tyndall Air Force Base in Tyndall, Fla., on Dec. 22, 2004.