A Brief History
After WWII the drone manufacturer Radioplane Company, owned by movie
Denny followed up the
success of its earlier OQ-2 target drone with another very successful
piston-powered target drones, sometimes referred to as the Basic
Target (BTT) family. Early models of these drones had a metal fuselage
wooden wings, but later Radioplane standardized on an all-metal
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
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:
||Fired at drones ("Moderate success").
|Shore bombardment, Day Battle and Drone
Knocked down drone on 2nd run.
|Overcast cancels drone exercise.
|Drone practice with 6" and 5". 6" not
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,
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
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
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
women war workers.
Here are a couple of David
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
(-1 thru -4), the "Quail"
|KDA-1 / AQM-34 "the
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.)
for MQM-36 "Shelduck"
7.5 in / 3.85 m
6 in / 3.50 m
6 in / 0.76 m
lb. / 180 kg
mph / 360 km/h
ft. / 8230 m
miles / 340 km
||Autopilot with radio
O-100-2 piston engine (90 hp)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - -
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
Production began in 1959, with the drone being given the Navy
of "KDB-1" (later "MQM-39A"). The Army designation for this drone was
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
TC6150-J-2 flat-six, air-cooled, two-stroke piston engine driving a
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.
Three MQM Cardinals on 02 Level of USS Little
(From 1960-1961 Cruise Book)
MQM Cardinal launch from 02 Level of USS Little Rock CLG-4
(Data given is from several sources and may not
be totally accurate.)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
- - - - - -
for MQM-39 "Cardinal"
||13 ft. /
||15 ft. 1
in / 4.6 m
||3 ft. 4
in. / 1.02 m
/ 301 kg
/ 560 km/h
feet / 13,100 m
with radio control.
||McCulloch TC6150-J-2 (125
MQM-34 Drone (Army) during RATO boost
The Model BQM-34A
In the late 1950s, the Air Force awarded Ryan a contract for a
improved "second generation" Firebee. The prototype performed first
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
for AQM-34 "Firebee"
10.8 in / 3.93 m
10.8 in / 6.98 m
||6 ft 8.4
in / 2.04 m
/ 1130 kg
0.96; (690 mph, 1110 km/h) at 6500 ft (1980 m)
ft / 8300+ m
||800 miles / 1300 km
aircraft or by RATO
with radio control.
Continental J69-T-29 turbojet,
Thrust: 7.6 kN (1700 lb)
Later version: Continental J69-T-41A turbojet,
Thrust: 8.5 kN (1920 lb)
Wayward Drone Recovered
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"
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
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
- - - - -
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
get their respective turns with their Tartars(?) and Terriers(?). We
kept downing the things and the others actually started complaining."
- - - - -
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:
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!"
|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
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
they can't shoot 'em down, the "Rock" will locate and recover"! "
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
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.
The stray target drone in
tow by the ship's launch is brought along side to prepare for hoisting
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.
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
, J.M., AM3
, T.L., AT2
, W.M. Jr., AD3
, F.T., LTJG
, R.A., AM2
, Edgar, AM3
, N.H., AT3 (*)
, L.B., AT3
, R.F., AT2
, A.B., AD3
, 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".
U.S.S. Little Rock's V-2 Division? If so, we'd like to
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