Military Surplus

Operation Aphrodite


B-17 drone

Take one war weary B-17, stuff in one pilot and 20,000 pounds of explosives. Then have the pilot bail out and hand the controls over, remotely, to another bomber flying nearby. This was Operation Aphrodite



Operation Aphrodite on takeoff


During wartime you are faced with a large amount of war weary aircraft that are no longer considered reliable  but that are still capable of flight. What to do with them would be asked on both the American and German sides. The American approach was to work with the bleeding edge of technology and create an usual guided missile.  The US Air Force would use B-17 while the Navy would use warn out PB-4Y’s.

During testing the approach was to take a B-17 and remove all combat equipment from the plane. Anything it didn’t need to fly was removed. Then two television controls  were installed with one camera pointed towards the instruments and the second pointing outside. Next remote control equipment was installed to allow a second bomber to control the drone. Lastly the aircraft was filled with 18,000 pounds or torpex explosives.  Once all of this was done a pilot and co-pilot were loaded into the drone and would fly the plane up to a stable altitude where they would bail out after giving control of the drone to the controlling bomber.

Sounds simple right? Unfortunately in practice it never worked as promised with the worst accident costing the life of Joe Kennedy the brother of JFK.


The failure of the program was related to the fact that they are on the bleeding edge of technology. Quite honestly step back and think about what they were attempting in 1944. They used two TV cameras to remotely view the controls and the front of the aircraft. This is an addition to the use of remote control of the bomber aircraft.  To the people of 1944 this would have looked like James Bond levels of technology. The future would prove this concept correct.

Remotely controlled bombs with TV cameras in their nose are not an unusual sight in the 21st century but this is after sixty years of electronic developments. Operation Aphrodite  paved the way for the cruise missile.


  • Froggmann_

    I remember reading about this once, believe it or not in Playboy Magazine. There's only speculation on what happened on the 17 Joe Kennedy perished in, but the common theory is static electricity set off the charge.

  • Number_Six

    Joe Kennedy was killed in a B-24 Liberator version, and the explosion nearly killed FDR's son, who was flying a Mosquito with cameras onboard to record the mission.

    • fodder650

      I thought I noted in there that he died during the Navy version of Aphrodite but you are correct.

    • Stephan Wilkinson

      I don't think Elliott Roosevelt was flying that Mosquito, though he was aboard it. He was a pilot, but a marginal one, with poor eyesight. He'd been turned down for AAF wings once and had also been declared 4F once, though he eventually did get the wings.