10 Interesting Facts about Drones and Drone Technology


When you come across a drone, it is probably to look skyward and wonder at the buzz of a recreational drone, or you may have heard that drones will soon be delivering everything, including our mail.   Businesses in Australia have used commercial drones for the last 20 years. Recreational drones came not long after. Here are 10 drone facts you may not know.

1.      CASA Introduced drone legislation first in 2002

Australia became the first country to introduce legislation covering unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority led the world in creating regulations for uncrewed aircraft and rockets governing civilian use of this technology in 2002.

It is now possible to obtain a pilot’s licence without ever leaving the ground. A remote pilot licence lets you fly a commercial drone as part of your business or as an employee of a company that utilises drone technology.

2.      Drone technology was being explored in the 1800s

There are records from as far back as the 1800s of drone technology used in the US Military. While the drones of the 1800s may have been balloons, torpedoes, and aerial targets, they were incredible innovations for their time. For example, in 1849, the Austrian Army used 200 incendiaries (helium) balloons to capture Venice.

Nikola Tesla wrote about uncrewed aerial combat vehicles in 1915. A.M. Low attempted the first self-propelled drone as an aerial target in 1916. Dayton-Wright Airplane Company invented the first pilotless torpedo in World War 1.

After WWI, the US military developed an unmanned aerial torpedo, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, and the Kettering bug. World War 2 and subsequent wars saw drone technology growing in sophistication. 

Today the US leads the world in robotic warfare, with one in three US military aircraft being unmanned. 

3.      A Hollywood actor developed the first hobby drone

The first civilian in the US, outside the military, to develop a remotely piloted vehicle was actor and model aeroplane enthusiast Reginald Denny in 1935. Denny was a star of the silent screen and a World War I fighter pilot, RC aeroplane hobbyist, and innovative visionary for uncrewed military aircraft. His “Radioplane”, powered by the Dennymite Engine, brought model aviation to the masses.

4.      The first US drone permit was issued in 2006

Trailing behind Australia by four years, the Federal Aviation Administration in the US issued its first commercial drone permit in 2006, following 150 years of war-based technology. Government agencies began testing drone technologies for disaster relief and border surveillance, and some corporations began to use them commercially for pipeline inspections, crop evaluation, and security.

5.      A range of business sectors utilise commercial drones in Australia

By 2012 commercial drones in Australia were being utilised by real estate agents, miners, marketers, environmental surveyors, and even lifeguards. Today they are used across almost every industry, including but not limited to:

  • Journalism and film
  • Security purposes – building safety inspections
  • Shipping and delivery
  • Rescuing victims from disasters
  • Advancing scientific research in extreme climates on the planet
  • Surveillance
  • Real estate
  • Aeromedical
  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Community services.

6.      CSIRO has developed fully integrated 3D mapping technology

Our own CSIRO is currently working on autonomous aerial vehicles (UAVs) to develop dependable automation for larger uncrewed aircraft flying in shared airspace for real-world tasks. They have developed a fully integrated 3D mapping technology named the “Hovermap” to map flights dependably and safely.

7.      Australia was the first country to experience Google drone food delivery in 2019

In 2019 CASA introduced the drone ‘flyers’ licence and mandatory registration of drones just as Google’s parent company Alphabet launched its world-first drone food delivery in Canberra. The registration costs around $20 annually for recreational drones and around $150 for commercial drones.

8.      A Melbourne-based company was the first to fly drones remotely to another country.

Melbourne-based drone company Swoop Aero is the first company to remotely pilot commercially used drones from another country. The company builds and operates drones to transport medical supplies. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, they flew PPE into Malawi by piloting the aircraft from Australia. 

During this time, Swoop Aero also transported a vaccine to a baby on a small Pacific Island in conjunction with UNICEF by piloting the aircraft 40 kilometres across rugged Vanuatuan mountains that would otherwise have taken hours by road.

9.      Surf Lifesaving NSW uses drones to track sharks

In 2020, in conjunction with Surf Lifesaving NSW, the NSW government replaced shark spotting helicopters with drones to survey the coast. They are so advanced that they can identify the shark’s species and their size.

10. The RAAF uses a drone to shadow manned and unmanned aircraft.

In collaboration with Boeing Australia, the Australian RAAF has recently launched the Loyal Wingman program, also known as “Ghost Bat”. The Loyal Wingman is the first military aircraft to be designed, engineered, and built in Australia in more than 50 years. It uses AI to fly alongside both manned and unmanned aircraft in mid-air. Following the first successful flight in February 2021, the Australian Government has ordered six aircraft.

The aircraft measures 11.7 metres long and has a range of 3700 km to deliver fighter-like performance while also offering intelligence capabilities. The aircraft will enable defence to investigate levels of automation and autonomy, the use of artificial intelligence, and human-machine teaming concepts to ensure that Australia’s legal and ethical obligations are met. To see the Loyal Wingman in action, watch this video.

How do I find out more about owning or flying a drone?

For further information about obtaining your operator accreditation or registering your drone, visit the CASA website or check out their fact sheet:   CASA: Know Your Drone.

What can the Civil Aviation Academy (CAAA) do for you?

The Civil Aviation Academy Australasia Pty Ltd (CAAA) has been providing training and consultancy to the aviation and related industries since 2001.  We have certainly been around as long as the drone regulations!  While we don’t run drone courses, we can help you out with any of the speciality courses below:

  • Dangerous Goods Awareness and Acceptance of Non-Dangerous Goods (initial issue and refresher) Courses.
  • Safe Transport of Infectious Substances by Air (Shippers Training) (initial issue and refresher) Courses; and
  • Crew Resource Management (CRM) also known as Aviation Decision Making (ADM) Courses.

Our experienced and professional consultants are available to chat about any of your aviation regulation enquiries.  Get in touch today

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