A drone is an unmanned remotely controlled flying vehicle that also can be used for specific work in addition to just being able to fly around. Drones are used for photographic and video recording from above. Some are used to perform scientific or technical measurements. Some carry weapons and are used as combat tools. Still other are used to carry cargo and post between places. The latest development are drones that carry tools for installation and repair.
The basic technology in a drone consist of some kind of power plant, some propulsion mechanism, some kind of steering mechanism, some kind of sensors to recognize place and path and a sender-receiver unit to transmit and receive signals for steering and recording. Drones are found in all shapes you can find in greater airplanes, and also in all kind of exotic shapes, like oblong airships, disks, triangles, donuts, stars or can resemble big insects or birds.
Small or light drones are typically driven by propellers connected to electric motors powered by batteries. Steadily more one produces very light drones, powered by solar panels, that can fly in the air for several weeks in principle. Some drones are held aloft by gas lighter that air, like a blimp, which also makes the drone able to hold itself in the air for a long time. Greater or heavier drones are mostly powered by some kind of combustion engine, like piston motors, turboprop motors or turbojet motors.
It is also possible to construct drones powered by nuclear energy that can stay aloft for days or weeks, and especially if those drones are partially made as gas-filled blimps. Such nuclear power sources need not be what is considered atomic reactors. The energy source can be special isotopes that radiate intensely and thereby produce enough heat to power the drone. Some of these isotopes radiate mostly alpha-rays or beta-rays that can be shielded off without heavy armors.
Since most uses of drones are held secret or simply not announced publicly, it is difficult to give a full account of the extent of their use and who are using them, but a fairly clear picture emerges based on official sources, journalistic and scientific articles, commercials from drone producers, and stories of people coming in touch with drones in use.
Most drones are probably used by civil authorities and property owners for domestic surveillance of various kind, like border control, road traffic surveillance, wildfire detection, air photography, geographic mapping, pipeline control, electric grid control and surveillance of crowd behavior. Drones are steadily more used to transmit views of sport championships. Police forces use drones for detection and investigation of crimes, a practice that also seems to involve direct spying by drones on private citizens at their homes.
Military forces have since long used drones for surveillance of foreign territories and combat zones. The use of small tactical drones for delivery of bombs, launch of missiles and gunning is old but is getting steadily more important. By 2014 such drones are extensively used to surveil terrorist bases, to bomb such bases and to kill individuals suspected of terrorism. A classical surveillance drone used both for military and sivil authorities is the RQ-4 global Hauk. The small helicopter drones Northrop-Grumman MQ-8 (A,B and C) fire scout are examples of the smaller surveillance-combat drones used in local operations and launched from small vessels or from land-based troupes.
Greater long range drones, comparable to bomber planes, is in use both for surveillance and to destroy targets at ground level and at sea. Well-known examples of these are the Atomics MQ-1 predator, the Atomics MQ-9 Reaper able to carry a heavier load of arms and the still more advanced stealthy jet-driven combat drone Atomics Avenger. The Isreeli Eitan drone is a big long-range surveillance and ground level combat drone able to keep itself aloft for 70 hours.
Effective laser guns have by now been invented, and drones armed by laser guns are probably a reality by 2014, at least in experimental versions, but these drones must be of some size because the laser needs a large power generator driven by a turbine engine.
The technical control mechanisms are however by 2014 probably not so far advanced that one has been able to construct fully reliable supersonic drones with fighter jet capabilities. Unmanned supersonic stealthy fighter jets have however been under construction for some time and they are by 2014 since long been flown for test. Of these Northrop-Grumman stealth bomber drone x47B is by 2014 near to be deployed for realistic tests of combat operations form aircraft carriers.
The British company BAE is developing a stealthy supersonic fighter-bomber drone in a project called Taranis. The French producer Dessault together with other European participants are working on a similar project, called nEUROn. Both projects have produced experimental versions that are flown for test by 2014. There are speculations that the 6th generations of fighter jets will be unmanned or can be flown manned or as drones depending on choice. Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works and Boeing Corporation Phantom Works are leading American developers of combat vehicles, including unmanned planes.
Information available seems to indicate that Lockheed Martin is developing unmanned combat planes which use much of the same technology as the F35B stealthy, vertical take-off and landing, supersonic fighter, and that they also are developing a high-flying hypersonic unmanned spy-plane. It is logical to think that this hypersonic plane also will get bombing capabilities.
Drones that mimic birds or other small animals have been developed and can be used for spying, gunning or injection of poison in targets. There are rumors that such drones already are in use by certain authority units. Rumors can tell that even spy and attack drones resembling insects in shape and size is being developed. Probably the microtechnology has still not come so far that such drones can be made, but the physical posibility of making such drones is there.
USA have plans to let construct drones made as blimps and powered by solar panels to be permanently stationed in the upper zones of the atmosphere for surveillance. Such drones can be made to lower altitude to avoid clouds and to patrol an area, something one cannot do with satellites. But possibly high flying drones that operate aloft for days or weeks, powered by nuclear energy are already in use since long. Certain UFO observations seem to point in that direction.
One can ask how often people see drones in flight or in use by 2014. There is of course not any statistics about this. Sometimes people see flying objects that clearly are recognized as drones. Most often it will be difficult to decide what is seen. Most UFO reports by 2014 are probably caused by drones.
Since at least bigger drones are comparable to other air traficants, they are obliged to keep lanterns and other means to warn against the possibility for collision, but since government instances operating drones typically want to keep the flight secret, such lanterns will possibly be lit only when other traffic is in the neighbourhood, or when the operators want visual contact. This kind of intermittent light emission is typical of many classical UFO sightings.
Also the flight pattern of a drone that are used for surveillance and investigation will mimic the pattern seen by objects in UFO reports: Sometimes they fly foreword with various velocity, sometimes they stop and just hover, they will often change direction, they will come from above, do some maneuvers near the ground and then fly up and away.
Also lights from drones can be used to illuminate targets, often at the ground, for image recording, which is also seen in classical UFO stories. Also many drones have a shape like a classical UFO. Furthermore, drones will make only little noise, which also is characteristic of so-called UFOs.