Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan is reckoned to be as busy as Gatwick. Every few minutes the cloudless skies are filled with the roar of a military fighter taking off – hugging the ground to avoid pot shots by the Taliban’s crude rockets before disappearing into the heat haze.
In between there is a more persistent sound: the high-pitched whirr of ‘drones’ – military aircraft without a human on board – as they head out for 18-hour stints monitoring the vast empty spaces of Afghanistan. This sound, generated by the aircraft’s tail propeller, is a constant white noise for the inhabitants of Kandahar Airfield.
It is said the term ‘drone’ originated with a 1930s pilotless version of the British Fairey Queen fighter, the ‘Queen Bee’. But, with the new generation of insect-like small aircraft, together with its monotonous engine noise, the name has never been more apt.