The History of Predator Drones: From One Man's Basement to the War on Terror

From the Washington Post:

Lake Forest, Calif. — In 1980, Abraham Karem, an engineer who had emigrated from Israel, retreated into his three-car garage in Hacienda Heights outside Los Angeles and, to the bemusement of his tolerant wife, began to build an aircraft.

The work eventually spilled into the guest room, and when Karem finished more than a year later, he wheeled into his driveway an odd, cigar-shaped craft that was destined to change the way the United States wages war.

The Albatross, as it was called, was transported to the Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, where it demonstrated the ability to stay aloft safely for up to 56 hours — a very, very long time in what was then the crash-prone world of drones.

Three iterations and more than a decade of development later, Karem’s modest-looking drone became the Predator, the lethal, remotely piloted machine that can circle above the enemy for nearly a day before controllers thousands of miles away in the southwestern United States launch Hellfire missiles toward targets they are watching on video screens.

The emergence of hunter-killer and surveillance drones as revolutionary new weapons in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in counterterrorism operations in places such as Pakistan and Yemen, has spawned a multibillion-dollar industry, much of it centered in Southern California, once the engine of Cold War military aviation.

Over the next 10 years, the Pentagon plans to purchase more than 700 medium- and large-size drones at a cost of nearly $40 billion, according to a Congressional Budget Office study. Thousands more mini-drones will be fitted in the backpacks of soldiers so they can hand-launch them in minutes to look over the next hill or dive-bomb opposing forces.

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