Monday, 13 June 2016

Queen drones on

Why are unpiloted flying machines called drones? The Online Etymology Dictionary explains, sort of:
drone (n.)
Old English dran, dræn "male honeybee," from Proto-Germanic *dran- (source also of Middle Dutch drane; Old High German treno; German Drohne, which is from Middle Low German drone), probably imitative; given a figurative sense of "idler, lazy worker" (male bees make no honey) 1520s. Meaning "pilotless aircraft" is from 1946.
OK, but where's the link between bees (whether of the striving or skiving variety) and uncrewed aerial vehicles? It's not obvious, but Wikipedia has a plausible explanation going right back to the 1930s, involving the famous Tiger Moth biplane:
A radio-controlled gunnery target version of Tiger Moth appeared in 1935 called the DH.82 Queen Bee; it used a wooden fuselage based on that of the DH.60 Gipsy Moth (with appropriate structural changes related to cabane strut placement) with the wings of the Tiger Moth II. There were nearly 300 in service at the start of the Second World War. It is believed the name "Drone" derived from "Queen Bee". These aircraft retained a normal front cockpit for test-flying or ferry flights, but had a radio-control system in the rear cockpit that operated the controls using pneumatically driven servos. Four-hundred were built by de Havilland at Hatfield, and a further 70 by Scottish Aviation.
Some Queen Bees, produced for the Fleet Air Arm, were mounted on floats for water operations - here's a picture of one being demonstrated to Mr Churchill:

Of course, this was long before the days when drone jockeys started flying via computer screen and joystick, or video game-style controller. As a contributor to The Aviation Forum explained:
Radio controlled, they were launched by catapult, then radio controlled using pulse signals from (honest) an old-style telephone dial.
Dialing nine or ......... gave you a dive.
Six or ...... gave you climb
Five or ..... left turn
Three or ... right turn
...which is wonderfully like playing a game using the keys of your mobile phone, only you get to control a real Tiger Moth, instead of a few pixels on a screen.

In other news, the Queen was 90 (again) yesterday and apparently said some stuff. Prince Harry looked unamused...

... although, to be fair, the photo probably puts those paternity doubts to rest or, if not, at least makes me think that nurture must trump genetics in some cases.