Northrop 'Shelduck' Target Drone
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 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 .
The shop 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. In 1940, Denny and his partners won an Army contract for their radio controlled RP-4, which became the OQ-2 Radioplane. They manufactured nearly fifteen thousand drones for the army during World War II. In 1952, Radioplane Co. became the Radioplane Division of Northrop Aircraft, Inc.
The ultimate result of this evolution is the MQM-36 (originally KD2R-5) Shelduck gunnery target. Design of the Shelduck began in 1946, with first flight in 1947. The Shelduck can carry radar enhancement devices on its wingtips. Over 60,000 Shelducks were built in all, and the type has been used by at least 18 nations internationally.
(Info credit: Greg Goebel)