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Superman, Marilyn, Robot Planes and UAVs

March 26, 2010

It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, No It’s a UAV

For Friday Fun Frolics, I thought we could look into some interesting stories about the history of UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) before we get into the sizzling high-tech advanced hunter-killer UAVs later in this series.

We started the series last week with Robot Planes Win With Northwest Nano an intro to Northwest UAV, a local designer and builder of UAVs. This week we assembled some lighthearted stories, photos and videos covering a little history of UAVs,  Hollywood and other fascinating flights of fancy for Friday Follies.

So please come with me as we join Mr. Peabody (a smart talking dog long before snarky Brian) and his boy Sherman in the WABAC machine to travel to England in the early 1930s to meet Reginald Denny.

Reginald Denny 1917

Reginald Denny and the Radioplane

The first large-scale production, purpose-built drone was the product of Reginald Denny. He served with the British Royal Flying Corps during World War I, and after the war emigrated to the United States to seek his fortunes in Hollywood as an actor. Denny had made a name for himself as an actor, and between acting jobs, he pursued his interest in radio control model aircraft in the 1930s. He and his business partners formed “Reginald Denny Industries” and opened a model plane shop in 1934 on Hollywood Boulevard known as “Reginald Denny Hobby Shops”.[8]

Early Radioplane development

The OQ-2 Radioplane was the first mass-produced UAV or drone in the United States.

The shops evolved into the “Radioplane Company”. Denny believed that low-cost RC aircraft would be very useful for training anti-aircraft gunners, and in 1935 he demonstrated a prototype target drone, the RP-1, to the US Army. Denny then bought a design from Walter Righter in 1938 and began marketing it to hobbyists as the Dennymite, and demonstrated it to the Army as the RP-2, and after modifications as the RP-3 and RP-4 in 1939.

They manufactured nearly fifteen thousand drones for the army during World War II.The company was bought by Northrop in 1952. The hobby shop business closed in the 1960s. See the full Wikipedia article…

Norma Jeane and the UAV War Effort

In 1940, the Amy placed an order for 53 RP-4s, designating them the OQ-1, the “OQ” meaning a “subscale target”. This small order led to a much bigger 1941 order from the US Army for the company’s similar RP-5, which became the US Army OQ-2. The US Navy also bought the drone, designating it TDD-1 or “Target Drone Denny 1″. Thousands were built, manufactured in a plant at the Van Nuys Airport in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. It was at this factory that in 1944 Army photographer David Conover saw a young lady named Norma Jeane, and thought she had potential as a model. This “discovery” led to fame for Jeane, who soon changed her name to Marilyn Monroe.

Continue for more Fascinating Females for Friday Fun Frolics…

UAVs some Historical Background

While early radio controlled drones were designed to help train gunners, other uses had occurred to the military minded.

November 3, 1944, Japan launched its first series of Fu-Go Weapon balloon bombs as a way of “invading” the US

“The concept of unmanned aerial vehicles was first used in the American Civil War, when the North and the South tried to launch balloons with explosive devices that would fall into the other side’s ammunition depot and explode. This concept was also used by the Japanese for around a month in World War II, when they tried to launch balloons with incendiary and other explosives. The idea was that high-altitude winds would carry them to the United States, where the dropping bombs would cause panic. Apparently, both these ideas were not effective.”  See UAV history article…

Japanese Balloon Bombs

“To date, the majority of Americans still don’t know about the balloon bomb attacks. The attacks are most known about in Oregon because five children and one adult were killed when they found a balloon in the forest and tried to pull it out, triggering the unexploded bomb. A memorial was set up for them where the incident took place. It is the only known deaths from the attacks.” See Joe Tracy’s Balloon Bombs web site…

When I was musing about putting this post together, I thought about my first awareness of UAVs. Over the years I have written and lectured about Military Robotics and all kinds of autonomous and teleoperated military machines.

The Adventures of Superman – TV Show

But, if I remember correctly, the first UAV I saw was a small radio controlled plane in a 1954 The Adventures of Superman episode called, “Beware The Wrecker.” I probably watched it with my kid brother Brad, in reruns sometime after 1954.

History Weaves Yesterdays Into Our Todays

“Beware The Wrecker” was about a terrorist/extortionist who used small guided planes, probably picked-up at Reginald Denny Hobby Shops, to bomb ships and buildings. Funny on how all this history stuff weaves yesterdays into our todays. In “Beware The Wrecker” Superman solved an intriguing sound clue to locate the bad guy and capture the killer UAV. Great stuff and it’s stuck with me all these years. The one disappointment with this episode is that Superman pronounces Robot as Robut – where do people get that!  The series is available on DVD or Amazon Video On Demand.

Hedy Lamarr, Inventor of Radio Controlled Torpedo

Hedy Lamarr – Frequency-hopping spread-spectrum invention

This is another WWII, Hollywood lovely leading lady related radio-controlled bomb technology story involving an amazing pair of stars.

Avant garde composer George Antheil, a son of German immigrants and neighbor of Lamarr, had experimented with automated control of musical instruments, including his music for Ballet Mecanique, originally written for Fernand Léger‘s 1924 abstract film. This score involved multiple player pianos playing simultaneously.

Together, Antheil and Lamarr submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June 1941. On August 11, 1942, U.S. Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey”, Lamarr’s married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

Lamarr’s and Antheil’s frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones. More about this fascinating couple on Wikipedia…

Now you can’t talk about brilliant beautiful innovative women with mentioning Ada Lovelace. No, she’s not an exotic dancer. Ada was the first computer programmer, as well as venture capitalist for Charles Babbage. The Countess of Lovelace was born on 10th December 1815, the only child of Lord Byron and his wife, Annabella.

March 24 is Ada’s Day

Ada Lovelace, 1838 – by Counsell

There’s a web site that celebrates Ada, her deeds and day. It’s called Finding Ada.

Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programs for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.

Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science. The first Ada Lovelace Day was held on 24th march 2009 and was a huge success. Read more her on the Finding Ada About page.

We’ll do “Amazing Grace” Hopper another time.

Lots of help from Wikipedia this week, remind me to donate. I love Fridays – Don’t you Babe…

Good bye Fess Parker, a Fab Fifties Fur-hatted Frontiersman, we miss you. And happy continuing contrails to Marshall Applewhite and the other Heaven Gaters on the 13 anniversary of their perilous adventures to the Comet Hale-Bopp – say hello to moose and squirrel.


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