Target Practice Drones

1917 was a momentous year in military and aerospace (mil/aero) history: the U.S. declared war on Germany in World War I (WWI) and U.S. military officials, including those in the Navy and the Army, were onboard with and funding aerial warfare with unmanned vehicles. Five weeks after the first successful flight test of the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, however, the U.S. military suspended nearly all programs for the Bugs, as pilotless aircraft were called during WWI.

In 1924, the U.S. Navy started a program for a remote-controlled plane and, on September 15, a converted Curtiss N-9 trainer seaplane equipped with Sperry automatic flight control gear took its first flight. The flagship plane regrettably sustained damage on landing and sank (although it was originally a seaplane). The Navy program ended quite abruptly and UAV research and development in the U.S. lay dormant, or so it seemed, for roughly a decade.

In 1936, just three years before the onset of World War II (WWII), the Navy started a program to create drones for training—specifically, to provide a method of gaining realistic practice for antiaircraft gunners. The unique Stearman-Hammond JH-1 became the aerial platform of record for the program, lead by Lieutenant Commander D.S. Fahrney. The radio-control equipment for the program was developed and delivered by the Navy Research Laboratory.

The Stearman-Hammond JH-1

The drone achieved its first successful flight on November 15, 1937, and it was successfully used as a target drone for antiaircraft gunners aboard the U.S.S. Ranger the following summer. It was at this point that Fahrney is said to have realized the potential of an assault drone.

This geek ponders whether weaponized UAVs were as controversial a topic then as they are now.

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Posted June 28th, 2012, by

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About J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping. J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

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