Airborne Awesomosity

Drone Wars: Blame Canada


There’s a lot of hulubaloo being made over drones these days. Particularly the type that spy on people. Nations are flying them as part of their armed forces, cities are flying them as part of their police services, and private citizens are flying them to see that hottie down the street sunbathe in her back yard. Nearly all of these systems can trace their lineage through the Canadair CL-89. “Midge”, as it was known by the British troops that flew her, did exactly what these modern drones do, but started doing it in 1964.

The CL-89, and later CL-289, drones were not the first reconnaissance drones to be used. In fact, WWII saw the first uses of unmanned RC planes that could spy on enemy positions. The CL-89, though, added an autonomous aspect to the whole deal. A flight path would be programmed into the drone, which resembles a missile with small wings, and then a JATO system would launch it off of truck-mounted rails. Once at flight speed, the JATO would drop away and a turbine engine would take over. Sensors on board could photograph enemy positions and/or record other data. The drone would then fly back to its starting point and descend via a parachute into the loving arms of the men and women charged with her care. They would recover the film and send it off to the one-hour photomat for processing and ready Midge for another flight.

So, when you see someone adjusting their tinfoil hat and blathering on and on about how the government has traded in their silent black helicopters for unmanned drones equipped with laser-guided missiles you can inform them they should be blaming Canada. That’s what I do.

[Image Credit: Karsten Franke]

  • A few weeks ago I encountered a 1930s-vintage Stearman-Hammond Y-1S at the Hiller Aviation Museum. The Navy used the Y-1S as an experimental drone aircraft in 1937, and that was more than a decade after earlier development by the Brits. Both aviation and radio were still in infancy during the early development, and I was astounded to find out that people not only had the vision to combine the two to make unmanned aircraft, but also actually executed such designs successfully. Those accomplishments were truly ahead of their time.

  • CopterBob

    And again there was Tesla, in 1898, demonstrating a functioning radio controlled boat at an electrical exhibition at Madison Square Garden. Apparently no one could imagine a use for it at the time…

  • craigsu

    Drone hunting season to begin soon in Colorado?

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