The history of unmanned aerial objects or vehicles dates back to ancient Greece and China. In 1783, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier organized the first public demonstration of an unmanned aircraft, a hot air balloon, in Annonay (France). The first use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles occurred in 1849, when Austria attacked the Italian city of Venice with 200 unmanned balloons loaded with bombs equipped with timers, although most of them proved ineffective. Balloon bombs were invented by the Austrian artillery lieutenant Franz von Uchatius.
Unmanned aerial vehicles include both autonomous drones (capable of operating without human intervention) and remotely controlled vehicles (RPV). A UAV is capable of controlled and sustained level flight and is powered by an alternative or electric jet engine. In the 21st century, technology reached a point of sophistication and the UAV is now being assigned an increasingly important role in many areas of aviation. There was a time when the cost of miniature technology limited the use of unmanned aerial vehicles to larger, better funded groups, such as the United States military, but due to the falling costs of UAV technology, including vehicles and monitoring equipment in its simplest forms, it is now available to groups that previously did not have the funds to use it.
HALE solar-powered unmanned aerial vehicles were a concept a little ahead of their time, and the first practical work on endurance unmanned aerial vehicles focused on more conventional concepts. A UAV differs from a cruise missile in that a UAV is intended to be recovered after its mission, while a cruise missile hits its target. Congress ordered the consolidation of unmanned aerial vehicle programs in 1987, freezing funding until June 1988, when the Central Office for Joint Programs for the development of unmanned aerial vehicles, mentioned above, was created. The idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles as a cheaper alternative to satellites for atmospheric research, terrestrial and meteorological observation and, in particular, communications dates back at least to the late 1950s, when conceptual studies focused on unmanned aerial vehicles with conventional propulsion or on new forms of propulsion that use microwave energy or photovoltaic solar cells.
The Predator RQ-1L (General Atomics) UAV was the first UAV deployed in the Balkans in 1995, Iraq in 1996, and proved to be very effective in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan.