The armed drone has become a symbol of modern war. Who needs people? We have cheap(ish) robots that can spy and kill for us—and they do, around the world. But before UAVs were rocketing Afghanistan, they roamed Vietnam.

The Aviationist's David Cenciotti brings us this test flight footage of an obscure piece of military history: the BQM-34A" drone, which "flew almost 3,500 UAV missions during the Vietnam war, at a cost of more than 550 drones lost."

Despite raining down rockets almost half a century ago, a lot of the principles were the same:

The -34A launched AGM-65 Maverick missiles and GBU-8 Stubby Hobo glide bomb but since it lacked asymmetric flight capability it had to drop a weighted shape from the opposite wing to balance weights. The drone was flown by a ground operator in a remote control van using a nose TV camera: since the weapons were electro-optically guided the operator could switch screen from the "drone view" to the "weapon view" to guide it to the target.

The BQM-34B included a laser designator nose and could fly without the weighted shape.

These precursor killers were, of course, a hell of a lot more primitive than the Reapers and Predators we fly today, which accounts for that "550 lost drones" bit. This also lead to the not-so-unfortunate reverse engineering of the planes by China—a weapon that lay fallow. And of course, it's not like enemies get our drones anymore, guys. [Aviationist]