Wall St. Journal, “Why Some Drone Makers Hate the Word ‘Drone’ and Want to Change It”

October 9, 2014

Jack Nicas, “Why Some Drone Makers Hate the Word ‘Drone’ and Want to Change It” (Wall St. Journal, Oct. 9, 2014)

“You will never hear me use the word ‘drone,’ and you’ll never hear me use the term ‘unmanned aerial systems,’ ” Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in May. “Because they are not. They are remotely piloted aircraft.”

However, it was the military that originally nicknamed the devices “drones,” said Ben Zimmer, a lexicographer who has researched the history of the term. In 1935, the U.S. Navy began using unmanned aircraft as aerial targets for shooting practice. The British Royal Navy had named its unmanned target aircraft the Queen Bee, Mr. Zimmer said, so in homage, the Navy called its targets “drones,” which means male bee.

Many unmanned-aircraft enthusiasts say that is why the term drone is inaccurate—because it should refer only to aircraft used for target practice. But Mr. Zimmer disagrees, saying the military began arming unmanned aircraft and calling them “assault drones” in World War II.

As early as 1946, the media had picked up the term. “Drones, as the radio-controlled aircraft are called, have many potentialities, civilian and military,” the magazine Popular Science wrote that year.

Read the rest here.

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