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The Convention on International Civil Aviation (a.k.a. the "Chicago convention"), includes right from its first version, signed in 1944, an article about "pilotless aircraft". The article in question reads:

Pilotless aircraft

Article 8

No aircraft capable of being flown without a pilot shall be flown without a pilot over the territory of a contracting State without special authorization by that State and in accordance with the terms of such authorization. Each contracting State undertakes to insure that the flight of such aircraft without a pilot in regions open to civil aircraft shall be so controlled as to obviate danger to civil aircraft.

The original text is available here.

I would guess that language like that (which it takes time and effort to produce) will not get included in an international treaty without a reason.

So the question is, which aircraft did the authors of article 8 have in mind in 1944?

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  • $\begingroup$ The only pilotless aircraft I can recall from that era were barrage balloons, but those are tethered and don't actually navigate, so I doubt that's what they had in mind. I would expect they were simply anticipating the foreseeable. $\endgroup$ – Carey Gregory Sep 10 '16 at 14:24
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    $\begingroup$ The V1 was from that timeframe. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V-1_flying_bomb $\endgroup$ – Adam Sep 10 '16 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ The US armed forces began experimenting with "drones" in the 1930s: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_unmanned_aerial_vehicles. While many hobbyists detest the use of the term "drone" to describe radio controlled aircraft the term "drone" as applied to unmanned aircraft originated with the early US Navy research in the 30s and 40s. They mostly ended up being used for target practice but at least two programs were designed to develop pilotless kamikaze aircraft (one piloted remotely by TV signal and one piloted by pigeons) $\endgroup$ – slebetman Sep 11 '16 at 1:58
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Note that the article says that

No aircraft capable of being flown without a pilot

At that point of time there were a number of radio controlled aircraft which could be flown without a pilot on board (for example, the RP series aircraft and OQ-2 Target drone, of which thousands were made). The authors of convention most probably had these in mind when they frame the article 8.

This ICAO document on Unmanned Aircraft Systems also points in the same direction:

4.3 Article 8 details conditions for operating a “pilotless” aircraft over the territory of a contracting State. To understand he implications of this Article and its inclusion from the Paris convention of 1919 (Article 15) into the Chicago Convention of 1944, the intent of the drafters must be considered. Remote-control and uncontrolled aircraft were in existence at the time, operated by both civil and military entities. “[A]ircraft flown without a pilot” therefore refers to the situation where there is no pilot on board the aircraft. As a consequence, any RPA is a “pilotless” aircraft, consistent with the intent of the drafters of Article 8.

(emphasis mine). So, the authors of the 1944 Chicago convention most probably had radio controlled aircraft in mind.

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