Airplanes Have Been Flown By Remote Control Since 1917
September 11, 2011
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
- Scientist and writer Arthur C. Clarke
Airplanes have been flown by remote-control since 1917. As Wikipedia notes:
In 1917, Archibald Low as head of the RFC [Britain's Royal Flying Corps] Experimental Works, was the first person to use radio control successfully on an aircraft.
There were also [during the 1930s] remotely controlled cutters and experimental remotely controlled planes in the Red Army. In the 1930s Britain developed the radio controlled Queen Bee, a remotely controlled unmanned Tiger Moth aircraft for a fleet’s gunnery firing practice. The Queen Bee was superseded by the similarly named Queen Wasp, a later, purpose built, target aircraft of higher performance.
As the Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum notes, President John F. Kennedy’s older brother flew a secret mission involving the remote-control flying of a bomb-laden airplane to attack Nazi targets inside France:
On the 31st July 1944 a U.S.N. special air unit, codenamed Project Anvil, moved to Fersfield from Dunkeswell in Devon. The mission was to involve the use of explosive-laden PB4Y-1 Liberator bombers under radio control. The crew of two, Lt Joe Kennedy (pilot), and Lt. Wilford John Willy (radio control technician/co-pilot), were to take off with 21,150 lbs of Torpex in 347 boxes and establish radio control of the Liberator by a Ventura mother-ship. Once full control was established and tested, at a pre-determined point the crew would parachute from the aircraft through the nose wheel bay emergency exit and the bomber would continue the rest of its mission under radio control, finally crashing onto the target.
In addition, Norad has been able to fly planes remotely for many decades: