1917: Sperry Aerial Torpedo
Toward the end of World War I, powered flight was in its infancy, the Wright brothers having flown their primitive biplane across the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, a little over a decade earlier. But it was a time of stunning innovation. In 1917, Peter Cooper and Elmer A. Sperry invented the first automatic gyroscopic stabilizer, which straightens and levels out aircraft during flight, and unmanned flight was born. The new technology was used to convert a U.S. Navy Curtiss N-9 trainer aircraft into the first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), controlled by radio. For 50 miles in test flights, the Sperry Aerial Torpedo flew with a 300-pound bomb, but it was never used in combat.
San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives/Flickr