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2nd of October 1918

In modern day aviation, UAVs are used in a multitude of roles, from aerial surveillance to parcel delivery and with smaller UAVs (drones) even inspection of structures and aircraft. It was on this day 103 years ago, the 2nd of October 1918, an unmanned, radio-controlled, aircraft took off on its first test flight.

It was the Kettering Bug. Considered to be the first cruise missile.

The Kettering bug resting on its launch dolley and tracks (picture from public domain)

The Kettering Bug was designed after a request by the United States Army aircraft board to Charles Kettering of Dayton, Ohio. He was asked to design an unmanned flying bomb with a range of 40 miles (64 km). Initially known as the Kettering Aerial Torpedo it was built by the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company. Famous names were linked to the project;

  • Orville Wright (otherWright brother - Aeronautical Consultant

  • Elmer A. Sperry (father of the inventor of the Sperry Autopilot) -Desinger of the control and guidance system

A later development would be a piloted version, the Da.yton-Wright Bug.

To make sure the Kettering Bug hits its intended target an intricate system was developped. Before take of the distance to the target was determined and together with wind speed an direction it was used to calculate the amount of engine rpm's required to reach the target. This value was entered in a mechanical counter, and when the amount of engine revelutions reached the calculated value a cam that activated an engine shutdown mechanism and disconnected the wings from the fuselage.

This turned the fuslage in a ballistic bomb and it would deliver its 180 lbs (82 kg) explosive payload to its target.

The first flight of the prototype of the Kettering Bug, on this day in 1918, was an failure, it lasted only 9 seconds. Afte lift off it climbed to steep, stalled and crashed. Subsequent flights were successful, Kettering Bug Patent Drawing including demonstrations for the US Army.

Altough it was tested successfully and about 45 Bugs were built, officers were hesitant using it, they were worried flying this weapons over teh own troops. During the years after teh Great War some more testing was done but in 1920 the funding was removed and the project was cancelled. The program remained a secret until teh Second World War.

During the 3 years the program ran $275.000 was spent on the program. (equals $3.550.000,-- in 2021 value). One reproduction at full size is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

Kettering Bug reproduction

Specifications of the the Kettering Bug: General characteristics

  • Length: 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in)

  • Wingspan: 4.5 m (15 ft 0 in)

  • Height: 2.3 m (7 ft 8 in)

  • Gross weight: 240 kg (530 lb)

  • Powerplant: 1 × V-4 piston engine, 30 kW (40 hp)


  • Cruise speed: 80 km/h (50 mph, 43 kn)

  • Range: 121 km (75 mi, 65 nmi)

Armament 82 kg (180 lb) explosive warhead

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