New Book Details History of Predator Drone


The man who brought you the book on the V-22 Osprey helicopter-plane is out with another on the MQ-1 Predator drone.

Richard Whittle, a fellow at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., and the author of “The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey,” recently published his latest book, “Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution.”

Whittle was on hand at the Air Force Association’s annual conference this week in National Harbor, Maryland, to discuss the work, which took several years to complete. The following are a few of the interesting tidbits he shared about one of the U.S. military’s most revolutionary aircraft.

The original designer of the aircraft, Abraham “Abe” Karem, was born in Baghdad, grew up in Israel and became the chief designer for the Israeli air force before moving to the U.S. in the 1970s to start his own aerospace company. “Like all great inventors, he went to work in his garage,” Whittle said.

Karem achieved success with such Predator predecessors as the Amber and Albatross, thanks in part to a contract with the Defense Advanced Research Projects and private funding. But the military passed on the aircraft and his company, Leading Systems, went into bankruptcy. Who bought the assets? Neal and Linden Blue, the owners of the closely held General Atomics.

“Abe Karem is probably a genius,” Whittle said, but “he’s not exactly the most diplomatic person you’d meet.”

The day of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military possessed just three armed Predator drones in its entire arsenal. Within 25 hours, they were all in theater, along with more than a dozen Hellfire missiles, ready to strike al-Qaeda and Taliban targets. But before the first U.S. drone strike of the modern era on Oct. 7, the military and CIA practiced the mission at a trailer park stateside and estimated potential battle damage using a brick building instead of a mud hut and watermelons instead of mannequins.

The book is available in hardcover for as low as $15 on

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • Barry

    I love the irony of Mr. Karem’s origins, given how his technology has been deployed. He should be a poster boy for immigration reform.

    • rtsy

      “Come to our country and help us bomb yours.”

  • Scott Swanson

    Richard Whittle did a great job of capturing what went on behind the scenes in his book. Take it from me, i was there! He brought to light things that I was unaware were going on and filled in a lot of history for me. Its a worth reading and I highly recommend it. And to correct Brendan McGarry on his review, we had 3 ARMED MQ-1 Predators on 9/11, not three total Predators in the inventory.

    • Brendan McGarry

      Thanks, Scott. Story was updated to reflect this.

  • @shyuechou

    I remember Whittle’s book on the V-22. I will be looking for his new one in the library.