Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace System

300 NM. Queen Bees served as target drones throughout World War II, until they were retired following World War II.13

In 1939, Reginald Denny formed Radioplane Company – now Northrop/Grumman – and developed the country’s first large, reusable, mass produced unmanned aircraft, the OQ Target. The Air Force ordered thousands. The Army and Navy used approximately 15,000 OQ Targets before they were retired following the war.

iii. From Radioplanes to Rockets: Unmanned Advancement in World War II

Unmanned technology advanced throughout World War II. The German Luftwaffe had the most obvious early success in unmanned weapon technology when Fieseler Flugzeuhau designed and built the Fi-103, Vergeltungswaffe. The “revenge weapon” was known by the allies as the V-1. The V-1 was not remotely piloted, but flew a pre-programmed mission before flying into its target.

The U.S. Army Air Corps coordinated with the Navy to pioneer the first U.S. unmanned aerial weapon system. In a project called Aphrodite, explosive laden B-17 bomber aircraft were launched by a crew of two, who armed the explosives and parachuted out of the aircraft. The unmanned ships were then to be piloted remotely to their targets from a nearby aircraft. The project was quickly scrubbed after a failed mission in 1944, when four aircraft were so equipped and launched. Of the four, one exploded over England, killing its crew. The other three failed to reach their targets. The Navy had greater success in the Pacific theater, launching unmanned aircraft that delivered ordinance before attacking kamikaze-style after payload delivery. Despite successful missions, the program was shelved in favor of more all-consuming weapons that led to decisive victory in the Pacific.14


13 Id.

14 The UAV and the Current and Future Regulatory Construct for Integration into the National Airspace System, Mark Edward Peterson, 71 J. Air L. & Com. 521 (2006) [citations omitted] [hereinafter UAV Regulatory Construct].