Apr 6

World War I and Early Unmanned Aviation Vehicles (UAVs)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 11:02 AM


93 years ago today, the U.S. declared war against Germany and entered World War I and, in addition to all the carnage, was a laboratory for future weapons.

Research and development of planes akin to modern UAVs began during World War I. These developmental tests concentrated on unmanned planes using different mechanisms for controlling their flight to impact targets.

Unmanned guided ordnance was concurrently developed for delivery by air and sea.The naval torpedo became an underwater projectile that would eventually become guided ordnance as well. During World War I, military researchers developed an automatic airplane, the Hewitt-Sperry. The only program continued after the war, the “Bugs,” pilotless flight vehicles, continued until 1925. In 1936 the development of pilotless planes for realistic antiaircraft training had the unintended effect of furthering guided missile technology. In 1940 the Naval Aircraft Factory project developed radio controls for their torpedo-carrying TG-2 airplane.

  • I’m a little surprised you didn’t link to the Kettering Bug.


  • Old Soldier

    A view of the Kettering Aerial Torpedo (“bug”) is available at http://www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/factsheets/factsheet_media.asp?fsID=320

  • Thanks Brad!!!

  • Thanks Old Soldier!!

  • Richard Dirks

    I possess a privately published memoir by Macy Teetor, who was employed in the summer of 1918 on the Kettering Bug project. Teetor was then a 19-year-old college student, whose family manufactured light-weight railroad inspection cars. The undercarriage of these cars became the basis for the Bug’s launch system, a cradle which moved over portable railroad tracks and released the Bug when it reached flying speed. Teetor describes a successful test launch in which the Bug came down in a farm field about two miles from the intended target. When the chase team arrived, according to the story, they found the farmer frantically searching for the presumably wounded “pilot.”

    Teetor later served briefly in the Navy, as a member of the band aboard USS Pennsylvania. Although he devoted his career to building the family business, he was a talented musician who composed in his spare time. One of his ballads, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer, led the old radio “Hit Parade” for several weeks in the early 1930s.