Page last updated: 6 September, 2018

Shelduck Drone   Cardinal Drone  

Silhouettes of the two Drone Target types used on board the U.S.S. Little Rock in early 1960's

A Brief History

After WWII the drone manufacturer Radioplane Company, owned by movie star Reginald Denny followed up the success of its earlier OQ-2 target drone with another very successful series of piston-powered target drones, sometimes referred to as the Basic Training Target (BTT) family. Early models of these drones had a metal fuselage and wooden wings, but later Radioplane standardized on an all-metal aircraft.

The Radioplane Company's earlier model RP-5A / OQ-2A / TDD-1 (the Navy used the designation TDD which stood for "Target Drone Denny") started rolling off the production line at the San Fernando Valley Airport in June 1941. The OQ-2A was catapult-launched and was recovered under a 24-foot diameter parachute. Conventional landing gear cushioned the landing impact. After launch, gunnery target missions were flown by a ground controller using a "beep" box, so called because of the tones transmitted to the target's control system. Radioplane Co. produced a total of 14,891 drones for the USAAF and USN from 1941 through 1945.

Records of U.S.S. Little Rock CL 92 operations shortly after her commissioning show that target drones were utilized for gunnery practice early in her career. Here are some log entries made in August 1945:

10 Aug 1945
Fired at drones ("Moderate success").
18 Aug 1945

Shore bombardment, Day Battle and Drone practice.
Knocked down drone on 2nd run.
19 Aug 1945

Overcast cancels drone exercise.
Evening AA practice.
20 Aug 1945

Drone practice with 6" and 5". 6" not very close.
5" knocked down drone.
20 mm practice.

It is probable, but not known for certain, that the target drones used in the above referenced exercises were Radioplane's TDD-1, -2, -3, -4, or -5's.

The Navy version of the BTT family began life in the late 1940s, evolving through a series of refinements. The US Navy used the name of “Quail” for models KD2R-1 through KD2R-4, and “Shelduck” for model KD2R-5. The Navy later redesignated the KD2R-5 Shelduck as MQM-36 Shelduck.

Radioplane was bought out by Northrop in 1952 to become the Northrop Ventura Division, though it appears that the "Radioplane" name lingered on for a while.

Click HERE for some additional info on early drone history.

*   *   * An interesting bit of history *   *   *

During WWII a young woman by the name of Norma Jeane Dougherty managed to get a job at the Radioplane Co. as an assembler on the production line for the model OQ-3 (the Navy model TDD-2).
On 26 June 1945, army photographer David Conover was sent to the Radioplane factory by his commanding officer, one Captain Ronald Reagan (who was an acting buddy of Reginald Denny), to photograph women war workers.

Here are a couple of David Conover's pictures:

Norma Jeane Dougherty          Norma Jeane Dougherty

Miss Norma Jeane Dougherty at Radioplane Company 26 June 1945
Photo by Army photographer David Conover

The camera and the photographer loved Norma Jeane and he persuaded her to model for more photos that soon were circulating in Hollywood. A screen test, a change of name and a career very different from assembling robot planes quickly followed. Miss Norma Jeane Dougherty is now known as Marilyn Monroe! The rest as they say, 'is history.'

               PS.   Wouldn't it be interesting to know if any of the drones shot at by CL 92's gunnery crews
                        were assembled by Marilyn Monroe?

Later Navy Drones
KD2R (-1 thru -4),  the "Quail"
KD2R-5, the "Shelduck"
MQM-36, "the Shelduck"
KDA-1 / AQM-34 "the Firebee"

USS Little Rock Drone

This Target Drone is stored on the 02 Level (Aft)
and appears to be a Radioplane / Northrop KD2R-5.
Note that wings are not attached. Click for larger picture.

It would appear that some of the drones used aboard U.S.S. Little Rock CLG 4 in the early 1960’s were the KD2R-5 version. The KD2R-5 was introduced in U.S. Navy service in the mid-1950s, and in June 1963, it was redesignated MQM-36A.

The KD2R-5 / MQM-36 Shelduck was an improved version of the earlier KD2R-1 through KD2R-4 Quail models. The main improvement was an improved AN/ARW-79 radio command guidance system with automatic altitude hold, and could be tracked visually or by radar. Optional mission equipment included radar reflector pods (*) on the wingtips, flare kits, towed targets, and sophisticated scoring systems.

(*) The optional Luneberg lens radar enhancement devices in its wingtips generated a radar signature of a larger aircraft.


(The following data is derived from several sources and may not be totally accurate.)

Data for MQM-36 "Shelduck"

Length:  12 ft 7.5 in / 3.85 m
Wingspan:  11 ft 6 in / 3.50 m
Height:  2 ft 6 in / 0.76 m
Weight:  400 lb. / 180 kg
Speed:  224 mph / 360 km/h
Ceiling:  27000 ft. / 8230 m
Endurance:  60 minutes
Range:  210 miles / 340 km
Launch Scheme: 
RATO booster
Recovery Scheme: 
Autopilot with radio control.
Propulsion:  McCulloch O-100-2 piston engine (90 hp)

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Navy Version of the Beechcraft
MQM-39 “Cardinal” Drone

The 1960-1961 USS Little Rock Cruise Book, in the section on the V-2 Division, shows pictures of what appears to be Beechcraft MQM-39 "Cardinal" drones on the 02 Level. The following is what we've been able to find out regarding the MQM-39.

While the Radioplane BTT was popular with the U.S. Navy, it had competition in the form of the Beechcraft "Cardinal".

In 1955 Beechcraft (now part of Raytheon) designed the "Model 1001" in response to a US Navy's need for gunnery and air-to-air combat training. Production began in 1959, with the drone being given the Navy designation of "KDB-1" (later "MQM-39A"). The Army designation for this drone was MQM-61A.

The MQM-39 was a simple monoplane with a vee tail. It was substantially larger than the aforementioned Shelduck, and was powered by a 125 HP McCulloch TC6150-J-2 flat-six, air-cooled, two-stroke piston engine driving a two-blade propeller. It could tow banners or targets of its own, with two targets under each wing, and also carried scoring devices.

A total of 2,200 Cardinals were built, the majority for the US Army, with the rest operated by the US Navy, the US Marine Corps, and by Spain. Some may have also been operated by Germany and Switzerland. It is now out of production, although a few may linger in service.

MQM On Deck
Three MQM Cardinals on 02 Level of USS Little Rock CLG 4
(From 1960-1961 Cruise Book)

MQM Launch
MQM Cardinal launch from 02 Level of USS Little Rock CLG 4
(From 1960-1961 Cruise Book)

(Data given is from several sources and may not be totally accurate.)

Data for MQM-39 "Cardinal"

Wingspan:  13 ft. / 3.95 m
Length:  15 ft. 1 in / 4.6 m
Height:  3 ft. 4 in. / 1.02 m
Weight:  664 lb. / 301 kg
Speed:  350 mph / 560 km/h
Ceiling:  43,000 feet / 13,100 m
Endurance:  > 1 hour
Launch scheme:  RATO booster
Recovery scheme :  Parachute
Guidance system:  Autopilot with radio control.
Propulsion:  McCulloch TC6150-J-2 (125 HP)

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MQM-34 Drone

MQM-34 Drone (Army) during RATO boost

The Model BQM-34A

In the late 1950s, the Air Force awarded Ryan a contract for a substantially improved "second generation" Firebee. The prototype performed first flew in late 1958 and went into production in 1960. In 1963, it was redesignated BQM-34A (Navy version) and MQM-34 (Army version).

The older KDA-1 and KDA-4 targets that were still flying with the Navy were then, somewhat confusingly, given the designations AQM-34B and AQM-34C respectively.

The BQM-34A later known as the "Firebee" had a larger airframe, longer wings, and a "chin"-type air inlet under its pointed nose, in contrast to the circular intake of the first-generation Firebees. The BQM-34A

Data for AQM-34 "Firebee"

Wingspan:  12 ft 10.8 in / 3.93 m
Length:  22 ft. 10.8 in / 6.98 m
Height:  6 ft 8.4 in / 2.04 m
Weight:  2500 lb / 1130 kg
Speed:  Mach 0.96; (690 mph, 1110 km/h) at 6500 ft (1980 m)
Ceiling:  60000+ ft / 8300+ m
800 miles / 1300 km
Endurance:  90 min.
Launch scheme:  From aircraft or by RATO booster
Recovery scheme :  Parachute
Guidance system:  Autopilot with radio control.

Early version: Continental J69-T-29 turbojet,
                       Thrust: 7.6 kN (1700 lb)

Later version: Continental J69-T-41A turbojet,
                       Thrust: 8.5 kN (1920 lb)

The Crew Remembers.....

From: C. Roger Wallin CDR USNR (Ret.), Lt(jg) 1959-1962, Gunnery Department - Fox Division

"One of the unique things that I remember was the drone aircraft that we flew as a "target" for the 5"/38 antiaircraft battery fire control system.  It was mounted on a very simple launcher, not much more than a metal pipe stand, on top of the missile house (0-2 level aft) where the ship's vehicles were usually stored.  It was launched by the thrust of a JATO bottle of propellant, not much bigger than a large fire extinguisher.  The drone was basically a very large radio controlled model aircraft.  I would estimate that the wing span was about 15 to 20 feet.  The fuselage was about 2 feet diameter.   It was driven by a propellor about 3 feet long.  The engine seemed to be comparable in size to one that might have powered a light plane like a Piper Cub.

When the drone was deployed with the ship, it was accompanied by a special "crew" of several trained specialists who operated and maintained it.  These were pseudo "airdale" types.  There were several petty officers and one commissioned officer that comprised the drone detail.  The officer was a LIeutenant (junior grade).  I don't recall his name , but his uniform was distinct.  He wore the aviation green uniform of a Navy pilot, and on his breast pocket was the insignia of one-half the usual pilot wings.  That is, just one wing rather than a full spread of two.  I believe that same insignia might have been assigned to "balloon pilots" way back in the 1930's.  He was not qualified to pilot a manned aircraft, but he gave the orders that were transmitted by radio to the drone in flight.  I recall that our ship's helicopter pilot had a very low opinion of the drone officer, and was rather bitter about his wearing "greens" since he was not a "real" pilot.

In operation, the drone engine was run up to maximum power and then the JATO was released.  There must have been some mechanism that held the drone to the launcher until the last moment, but I don't remember it. Although the drone seemed rather large when it sat on deck, it seemed to disappear into the sky almost immediately after launch.  Of course, it was supposed to be tracked on radar, but I recall that there was not much success in locking on to the drone.  The usual scenario involved attempting to "find" the drone for a couple of minutes, and then giving up.  The OIC then ordered his crew to give the drone a signal to abort the flight.  The engine would stop and a parachute would deploy.  Apparently we had better luck finding the drone when it was falling under the chute, because we always had to retrieve it.

The ship would approach the floating drone and we would launch the 26 foot motor whaleboat with a few sailors who would grab the drone with a boat hook and attach a tow line.  The boat was under "command" of whoever was the Junior Officer of the Deck at the time.  Therefore,  I had the privilege of being involved in that recovery process.  It was very tricky.  The drone floated vertically, and would rise and fall like a semi-submerged buoy.  If the boat came too close, the drone could punch a hole through the bottom.  Also, the parachute was floating nearby, and it could foul the boat's propellor.

My general memory of the drone experience is that it was entirely unsuccessful.  It was the subject of many a derisive joke and criticism.  Perhaps there were other drones operated from the ship at a later date, but the above remarks pertain to the first drone that was deployed on board LITTLE ROCK after its 1960 recommissioning."

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Bob Jones IC2, E Division, 1971-1972 recalls our missile shots in Roosevelt Roads in 1971: "....The San Juan/Gitmo occurrence involved drones being shot at by us and a couple of other ships. The drones were launched very far away. We were (supposed) to just come close so the others would get their respective turns with their Tartars(?) and Terriers(?). We kept downing the things and the others actually started complaining."

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Frank Berglas YN3, X Division, 1960-1961 had the opportunity to get involved (indirectly) with some of Little Rock's drone launches. Here's his comments:

"What memories.

My GQ station was phone talker for the skipper.  As such I was plugged into, among others, the drone detail.  I vividly recall telling the Captain, "Drone's in the air."  And then, in quick order, another message: "Captain, drone's in the water."

Some of those drone flights were short ones!"

Wayward Drone Recovered !!

The photos below were received from Robert Ernst LTJG, OPS Dept., 1962-1965. These are part of an extensive collection of photos of people and events taken by Bob during the years he was stationed aboard Little Rock. The three shots below show the recovery an errant drone that was not from the Little Rock. It was found floating at sea in the Caribbean while the Little Rock was on there exercises in March of 1963.

Bob recalls:  ".... a drone recovery in the Caribbean in March of '63.  Picture #1 shows the ship approaching the object; Picture #2 has the ship pulling alongside with the USS Cone standing by in the distance and signaling by flashing light; and Picture #3 shows this as a stray target drone with our ship's launch preparing to hoist it aboard.  "If they can't shoot 'em down, the "Rock" will locate and recover"! "

Drone Spotted

Picture #1

USS Little Rock closes on an object in the water. It isn't known whether or not the ship had received any prior information about the "missing drone", or if it was discovered while steaming.

Note the crew gathered on the 04 level above the bridge. Even though it was March, the Caribbean weather allowed for "tropical long" work uniforms!

Picture #2

Here Little Rock is pulling alongside the drone. The ship's launch is maneuvering to get a line on the drone. Note the USS Cone (DD866) standing by in the distance and communicating by signal lamp.
Boat Crew at Drone
Recovery of Drone
Picture #3

The stray target drone in tow by the ship's launch is brought along side to prepare for hoisting it aboard.
Picture #4

This photo is a zoomed-in portion of Photo #3 (above) showing the drone at a larger scale. The size and shape are similar to a BQM-34A. In that this particular model drone was never launched from Little Rock, it most likely came from another ship, or perhaps from the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training Facility at Naval Station Roosevelt Roads.
Closeup of Drone

Shipboard Personnel
V-2 Division

The 1960-1961 Cruise book states: "V-2 Division as it is called aboard the ship, or KD Unit 63, as it is officially called, is an operational unit of the Utility Squadron Six. This TAD unit came aboard just prior to our deployment to the Mediterranean Sea to provide target services for AA gunnery during the cruise. The unit conducted over 40 successful launches and provided excellent services for LITTLE ROCK and accompanying destroyers."

V-2 Personnel 1960 Med Deployment

Allen, J.M., AM3
Bryant, T.L., AT2
Burdge, W.M. Jr., AD3
Cunningham, F.T., LTJG
Fox, R.A., AM2
Hebert, Edgar, AM3
Nerall, N.H., AT3 (*)
Pillow, L.B., AT3
Spangler, R.F., AT2
Valdez, A.B., AD3
Woods, R.C., AD1

(*) A note from Edgar Hebert AM3 states that the guys who flew the drones off the Little Rock in 1961 were "in VU6".

Were you part of U.S.S. Little Rock's V-2 Division? If so, we'd like to hear from you.
Please contact the Webmaster

Note 1: Silhouettes are from: Greg Goebel’s “In The Public Domain” site.

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