When I first saw this article
from a 1946 edition of Radio News, I did a double-take on the author's
name, thinking it was written by long-time model aviation author and magazine editor
William "Bill" Winter. It was actually done by a fellow named Winters (not Winter).
An enthusiastic radio control (R/C) evangelist in his day, Bill Winter wrote many
pieces for electronics magazines such as
Popular Electronics. As I have noted in the past, hobbyists
in the electronics realm, as well as in the fields of aircraft and rocket design,
contribute mightily to the state of the art. Such is also the case in many other
arts and sciences. Here we have a report of some of the earliest radio controlled
flying "drones," as we call them today. They are a far cry from the
palm-size, gyro-stabilized examples available from commercial
distributors nowadays. American film star
Reginald Denny was a pioneer in the development of remote controlled drone
Radio Operated Airplane
Mission completed, the radio-operated plane gets a comfortable
ride to earth by parachute. The pilot on the ground releases parachute from fuselage
via radio pulses. automatically killing the plane's motor.
By S. R. Winters
Radio-controlled planes, the dream of many prewar experimenters, have stepped
out of the novice field.
Taking off, zooming through the skies at a pace of 125 miles an hour, going into
dives and banks, and then landing by parachute-performing all these maneuvers solely
by means of radio, is a pilotless airplane of the American Air Forces Center at
Orlando, Florida. Without a person on board, not only is this unique flying craft
guided by ultra-high-frequency radio waves, but its 8-horsepower engine is killed
automatically when the plane's landing parachute is caused to spring out of a trap door.
As a forecast of pilotless civilian airplanes, when radio waves will start, steer,
and land flying craft, this innovation may also be an immediate forerunner of radio-powered
planes. In its present phase of being controlled by radio, this miniature plane,
with a 12-foot wing span and resembling an overgrown model airplane, utilizes an
ultra-high-frequency carrier, which is modulated by five different audio frequencies.
Of this number, four frequencies are selected by a stick in the remote-control box
on the ground and are employed in guiding the plane, which was used during the war
as a flying target for antiaircraft gunners. The fifth radio frequency holds the
parachute in its true position for an ultimate landing of the plane. This fifth
frequency is automatically in operating position while the other four frequencies
are being used. When the pilotless flight is terminated, a switch at the control
box on the ground cuts off the audio-frequency tones and thus releases the trapdoor
of the parachute, also stopping the engine.
The launching catapult of this dwarfed airplane functions on the principle of
a slingshot. It is composed of a metal-tubed length with top rails, and a group
of helical springs. As the miniature airplane departs from the firing end of the
catapult, the assembly is arrested by a snubber shock cable and the target plane
continues its flight into the air. The 8-horsepower engine generates a staccato
noise which is said to blanket the semi-tropical, jungle-like countryside of that
vicinity of Florida.
At the remote-control joy-stick of a radio-controlled plane is
an antiaircraft officer. By varying the controls. he can bank, loop, and dive the
plane to make tracking tough for ack-ack batteries firing live ammunition.
The seven-man ground crew of Lieutenant Eugene M. Applebaugh bide their time
as the lieutenant, beside the mobile radio-controlled apparatus on a three-quarter-ton
Army truck, maneuvers by radio the catapulted craft into a steep climb and short
bank. Only a stone's throwaway are teams of anti-aircraft gunners practicing a simulated
defense (even in peacetime) against the pseudo-marauder in the threat of this radio-guided
A catapult is used to project the plane into flight. An officer
is shown making preliminary adjustments on plane in preparation for flight.
The helmeted crews, with quick precision, zero in on the flying target and go
through a rapid routine of load, fire, and reload as the control men continue to
line up the elusive target in their guns' sights. The radio-controlled plane, at
a pace of 125 miles an hour, dives and banks in evasive endeavors to frustrate the
antiaircraft gunners. This shuffling or maneuvering of the target demonstrates one
of the significant benefits of this new type of radio-guided target over the outmoded
former system whereby planes towed targets and had to keep on a constant course
with their target's dragging sleeves. Once the practice run over the guns is completed,
Lieutenant Applebaugh flips another switch on his remote radio-controlled apparatus,
a trapdoor on the topside of the small airplane pops open, and the motor begins
to sputter and die. From the trapdoor, there emerges a slender mass of silk - a
parachute - and in its embrace. the model airplane begins its slow but comfortable
descent to earth.
The 12-foot wingspread has a counterpart in an 8-foot fuselage of steel tubing
covered with canvas. Within this body of the plane are contained the engine, generator,
battery, radio receiving apparatus, and the landing parachute under the topside
hatch. Late models have displaced the antiquated landing gear with reinforced shock-absorbing
keel. The flying target can be set up and launched in a jiffy, with as little open
space as 100 yards.
Pellets of atomic energy, with radio in the pilot's seat, may be the source of
power for civilian airplanes of the future. Or, the electronic airplane (a descriptive
term first used by this writer) may take off, be guided, landed, and even powered
by electronic waves. Already an automobile is being powered by electronic energy.
The radio-operated airplane, however, in its present stage, may be seen at many
civilian flying fields first as a novelty to focus attention on the Air Age; then,
in later developments, as a flying machine without a human pilot aboard but guided
from the ground by radio and carrying passengers on sightseeing tours in the vicinity
of our large cities or around such sightseeing objectives as Grand Canyon.
Posted May 28, 2022
(updated from original post on 5/9/2015)