TDR-1 assault drones in action (1944) - A silent film from the summer of 1944 showing TDR-1 assault drones in action in the south Pacific.
Film from Periscopefilm
The story of this aircraft started in 1936, when Lt. Commander Delmar S. Fahrney suggested the potential of remote control aircraft for combat by the United States Navy. Due to the limits of technology of the time, it was until after World War Two started when new devices such as radar and television that the idea was given a higher priority. The first assault drones were converted manned aircraft used for testing and on April 1942, a drone successfully hit a naval target.
In April 1942, Interstate Aircraft received a contract from the Navy for 2 prototypes and 100 production versions, to be officially designated as TDR-1
The TDR-1 was powered by 2 Lycoming O-435 engines, each with 220 horsepower. The design of the drone was simple, it was built with a steel-tube frame by the Schwinn Bicycle Company and covered with a molded wood skin. The landing gear was a fixed tricycle style set that would be jettisoned after take-off during operational missions for improved performance.
There were two ways to control the aircraft, the TDR-1 was fitted with a cockpit that could be used for pilots transporting or tests the craft. In combat, the cockpit was covered by a fairing and the TDR-1 was controlled by an operator with a tv screen showing the view from a camera attached to the drone and a radar altimeter. The operators were usually in the famous Grumman TBF Avenger bombers.
Given the code-name "Operation Option," the U.S.N. worked on a project to form 18 squadrons with 162 Avengers and 1000 TDR-1s. However, throughout it's development, the TDR-1 suffered many technical difficulties and was given a lower priority, so the order was reduced to around 300 drones. Despite this, the drones did see combat. In 1944, the TDR-1s were deployed in the South Pacific under the control of the Special Air Task Force. Special Air Task Group 1, equipped with the TDR-1s and the TBM Avengers, conduct the first combat mission using the assault drones on September 27 1944 against Japanese ships. Although successful, the order for the TDR-1s was reduced to only 189 and the assault drone program was canceled. The use of more conventional aircraft and weaponry was more preferred. The last mission using TDR-1s took place on October 27 1944, by this time, 50 drones were launched, 37 reached their target areas, 21 successfully hitting their target and no losses of life of Special Task Air Group. The U.S. Army tested a single example of the TDR-1 under the designation as the XBQ-4 however, no interest was shown.
Only one surviving TDR-1 exists, it is displayed at the U.S. Navy's National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Florida.