Monday, June 8, 2015


I posted an item last week that a restaurant in Singapore had replaced waiters with drones for food and drinks delivery. Amazon uses drones for transport of goods within its warehouses and has patented the delivery process in the population at large. Drones are being used for photographic purposes, for spying and surveillance, for sporting competitions and for recreation. One guy even turned his deceased pet cat into a drone, the subject of a past Bytes.

I had contemplated presenting a Funny Friday on the topic of drones but decided that the humour was lacking, at least for me, about something that is used for military purposes to kill people.

Nonetheless it had me wondering about the word origin of “drone.”

The word “drone” has a number of meanings, the most notable being 
a bee; 
an unmanned aerial vehicle; 
an unmanned combat aerial vehicle; 
a continuous note or chord. 


Within the bee world, drones are male honey bees which are the product of an unfertilised egg. Unlike the female worker bee, drones do not have stingers and do not participate in nectar and pollen gathering. A drone's primary role is to mate with a fertile queen.  (Don't think that that would so great: immediately after mating, which is aerial and lasts only a couple of seconds, the drone's genitalia snaps off and is explosively torn from his body, remaining in the Queen Bee to act as a plug to prevent semen loss.  It does not prevent mating with more drones, the Queen usually mates with several drones).

Worker bees are easy to distinguish from drones

Unmanned aerial vehicle:

Such vehicles are aircraft without on-board human pilots, their movement being controlled remotely by a person on the ground or by an automated computer system. Some examples:

Toy drone

Camera drone

Parcel drone

Unmanned combat aerial vehicle:

Military drones are used for surveillance, combat and as decoys. In 1973 during the Yom Kippur war Israel used target drones to cause Egypt to fire its entire anti-aircraft missile stock. Israel further developed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and their use in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the late 1980’s Iran deployed UAVs armed with rocket propelled grenades during the Iran-Iraq war, the first time an armed drone was used in war. Inspired by the Israeli example, the US further developed the use of drones in combat. Presently only the US, UK, Israel, Pakistan and China possess drones capable of delivering missiles. 

Word origin:

The use of the word “drone” for the male bee dates back to Old English times. Because that bee’s only role was to mate with the Queen Bee, unlike worker bees, by the 16th century the word had also come to be applied to lazy humans. Further, at around that time the word “drone” was also being used as a verb, with the meaning to buzz like a bee or to speak in a monotonous fashion reminiscent of a bee's persistent hum.

The modern use of the word has a connection with bees.

Military analyst and historian Steven Zaloga has explained the application of the term to UAVs as follows:
Drone is one of the oldest official designations for remotely controlled aircraft in the American military lexicon. in 1935, when the chief of naval operations Adm. William Standley, visited Britain, he was given a demonstration of the Royal Navy’s new DH 82B Queen Bee remotely controlled aircraft that was used for anti-aircraft gunnery practice. On his return, Standley assigned an office, Cmdr. Delmer Fahrney at the Radion Division of the Naval Research Laboratory, to develop a similar system for US Navy gunnery training. Fahrney adopted the name drone to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee. Drone became the official US Navy designation for target drones for many decades.
It seems quite appropriate in that a drone could only function when controlled by an operator on the ground or in a "mother" plane.

According to Zaloga, the term drone was used exclusively by the Pentagon and the US military until near the end of the Vietnam war. This was changed to UAV in the 1990’s, to Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) around the year 2000 and to Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) a couple of years ago. The general public and the media simply keeps calling them drones.

That usage has also come to be used as a verb with the meaning of being struck by a missile fired from a drone.

Ben Zimmer, writing in the Wall Street Journal:

On the domestic front, posters critical of U.S. policy rework the Obama campaign mantra "Yes We Can" into "Yes We Drone." And riffing off "Don't tase me, bro," the famous plea by a student who was hit by a police Taser at a 2007 speech by John Kerry, protesters have embraced the slogan, "Don't drone me, bro!"

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