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.
Radio Operated Airplane
By S. R. Winters
Radio-controlled planes, the dream of many prewar experimenters, have stepped out of the novice field.
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.
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 trapdoor.
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.
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 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.
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 airplane target.
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.
A catapult is used to project the plane into flight. An officer is shown making preliminary adjustments on plane in preparation for flight.
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 9, 2015