Did you know NASA was studying drones back in 1976? The agency’s Ames Research Center had commissioned Lockheed Missiles & Space Company for a drone study called Civil Uses of Remotely Piloted Aircraft. The 328 page study is available online and paints a picture of what these unmanned aircraft were back in the day. The study, which is 328 page long, also tried to predict the then future of drones, looking ahead to the years 1980 to 1985. The Lockheed study estimated the demand for RPV (Remotely Piloted Vehicle) systems to be at 2000 to 11000 systems, along with savings of 25-35% on RPVs over non-RPV alternatives.
Further, while Lockheed saw no environmental issues, it identified collision issues to be the main safety concerns. In addition, the report says that surveilling small areas would be the biggest use of drones, breaking it down into seven categories — security of high value property, ice-floe scouting, law enforcement and more. Communications relay was another area where drones could be put to use, according to Lockheed.
The study says that one of the main benefits of drones over manned aircraft is their endurance. It concludes by saying that NASA could provide a big service to the community if it helps in organising and publishing the lessons we learn from various drone programs that were going on at the time. While the report itself is over 300 pages long, NASA has an executive summary online, which is a mere 30 pages.
Many of Lockheed’s prediction have even come true today. For example, Google and Facebook have both been exploring bringing Internet connections to remote areas using solar-powered drones. Of course, examples of surveillance using drones are available in plenty.
You can read the entire study here.