September 22, 1942: Early experimental Guided Missiles

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  • US Army Air Forces

A GMA-1 power driven controllable bomb swerved out of control and was destroyed during a high-speed taxi run. The incident took place during a series of tests of the remotely controlled Bug equipped with tricycle landing gear.

The Aviation Section of the Signal Corps* first became involved with missiles shortly before America s entry into World War I when it sponsored Charles F. Kettering's research on a remotely controlled aircraft dubbed the "Bug."  A renowned engineer, Kettering collaborated on the project with several associates, including Orville Wright, Elmer A. Sperry, Edwin S. Votey, and Childe H. Wills. Also called a flying bomb, an aerial torpedo, and Project Liberty Eagle, the small craft was built by the Dayton Metal Products Company. It performed well enough after several test flights for the Air Service to order 100 of the pilotless aircraft in October 1918. Col. Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, another of those involved in the project, wanted to persuade Gen. John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, to organize tactical missile units in Europe.

Unfortunately for missile enthusiasts, Arnold became ill and before he could see General Pershing the war had ended. With the cessation of hostilities, production was canceled and the project abandoned. The Navy, which had started a similar program in 1916, continued its research until about 1919, but then it too scrapped the work. In 1923, the Chief of the Air Service Engineering Division at McCook Field, Ohio, recommended adapting radio controls to the aerial torpedo and the following year obtained support for the project. Despite such signal achievements as preset flights to a distance of 30 miles and radio-controlled flights of up to 90 miles, the project was canceled a second time for a lack of funds. It was revived in 1928, as part of a scheme to adapt remote control and guidance, with various-sized bombs, to commercial aircraft and to file the data for future reference in the event of war. After a promising start, however, the effort foundered in 1932 and then lay dormant until the eve of World War II.

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