You may be under the impression that unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or “drones”) are a typical twenty-first century piece of engineering but in fact the first mass produced drone was used in the World War II.
The “Radioplane” started as a remote controlled model plane but Reginald Denny of the Radioplane Company, as early as 1935, saw the potential for military application. He figured that his Radioplanes could be very useful indeed for training anti-aircraft gunners and demonstrated a prototype to the Army that year.
It wasn’t until 1940 that the military placed an order for fifty-three of Denny’s Radioplanes. Many more were purchased the next year and the United States Navy was similarly interested.
The original model was powered by a two cylinder, two cycle piston engine and had two propellers. Launch was from a conventional runway and recovery could be by parachute.
This version was improved upon during the early 1940s. Nearly a dozen other target drones were built by Radioplane and competing companies that never got beyond the prototype stage.
Thousands of Denny’s drones were built during the war at Van Nuys Airport, Los Angeles. It was at this factory that in 1944 Army photographer David Conover noticed a young girl named Norma Jeane and pictured here with a prop model of a Radioplane. This discovery propelled Jeane to nationwide fame and she soon dyed her hair and changed her name to — Marilyn Monroe.