August 31, 1971: Initial Remotely Piloted Vehicle Testing

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

The Ling-Tenco-Vought Electronics, Inc. XQM-93A remotely piloted vehicle made its first flight, with a contractor pilot aboard. The vehicle was a concept demonstrator modified from a Schweizer glider and powered by a DT-6 turboprop engine. It was developed for SAC’s Compass Dwell program to acquire a long-endurance drone capable of classified missions at high altitude. It required a remotely piloted vehicle to carry an electronic payload of 700 lbs and to operate at an altitude of at least 40,000 ft for 24 hours.

The Ling-Temco-Vought XQM-93 was a remotely piloted aircraft developed in the United States in the late 1960s and early 1970s for use as a communications relay in the Vietnam War. A prototype flew in 1970, but the program was abandoned without producing a service-ready aircraft.  In the late 1960s, following the early microwave High Altitude Long Endurance vehicle studies, the US Air Force worked with Electrosystems under the Compass Dwell program to build an unmanned aerial vehicle using much more conventional turboprop propulsion. At least part of the motivation or inspiration for this effort was derived from the Igloo White program, which was a multiservice attempt to cut the flow of supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam through the network of paths and roads running through Cambodia and Laos known as the "Ho Chi Minh Trail".  Igloo White involved seeding the region with thousands of seismic and acoustic sensors, most of them air-dropped, which would pick up indications of traffic along the trail and report them back to a central command center in Thailand, which would dispatch air strikes in response. The sensors were battery-operated and had limited range, so airborne radio relay aircraft orbited above the battle area to pick up the signals and pass them on to the command center.

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