The untold story of the birth of the Predator drone, a wonder weapon that transformed the American military, reshaped modern warfare, and sparked a revolution in aviation
The creation of the first weapon in history whose operators can stalk and kill an enemy on the other side of the globe was far more than clever engineering. As Richard Whittle shows in Predator, it was one of the most profound developments in the history of military and aerospace technology.
Once considered fragile toys, drones were long thought to be of limited utility. The Predator itself was resisted at nearly every turn by the military establishment, but a few iconoclasts refused to see this new technology smothered at birth. The remarkable cast of characters responsible for developing the Predator includes a former Israeli inventor who turned his Los Angeles garage into a drone laboratory, two billionaire brothers marketing a futuristic weapon to help combat Communism, a pair of fighter pilots willing to buck their white-scarf fraternity, a cunning Pentagon operator nicknamed "Snake," and a secretive Air Force organization known as Big Safari. When an Air Force team unleashed the first lethal drone strikes in 2001 for the CIA, the military's view of drones changed nearly overnight.
Based on five years of research and hundreds of interviews, Predator reveals the dramatic inside story of the creation of a revolutionary weapon that forever changed the way we wage war and opened the door to a new age in aviation.
Increasingly prominent in recent headlines, unmanned drones have a long history, as veteran military journalist Whittle (The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey) relates in this engrossing book. Thousands of drones were flown during WWII as targets for training antiaircraft gunners, and they played a modest reconnaissance role in Vietnam. But as Whittle shows, today's long-endurance, missile-firing drones are spinoffs of models developed by entrepreneurial startups during the 1980s. Largely commanded by former fighter pilots, the Air Force was hostile to unmanned planes until the 1990s wars in the Balkans. Peacekeeping forces could not track the marauding Serbian army, which shot down several manned reconnaissance aircraft, but an experimental drone, named the Predator, solved the problem. It was unarmed, but an updated version successfully launched a Hellfire missile in 2001 at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base test range. After 9/11, remotely controlled drones began raining destruction on targets identified, sometimes correctly, as enemies of the U.S. By 2010 the U.S. military possessed 8,000 and the number continues to grow. Whittle concludes this impressively researched, thought-provoking history by pointing out that drones have revolutionized warfare, but like previous revolutions (the machine gun, aircraft, nuclear weapons) they did not make the world a safer place and created as many problems as they solved.