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DRONE DEVELOPMENT

ABC engine driving an ordinary wooden propeller. It is believed that one of the prototype Sopwith Land Tractor Biplanes (SLTBP) or “Hawker’s Runabout” (after its famous designer) was used as the basis for the Sopwith “AT.” The radio box was positioned further back towards the tail behind the fuel, batteries, and the explosives in order to reduce the risk of interference from the engine magnetos. The sensitive radio equipment was fitted into a wooden box with a glass lid suspended on rubber supports. The box itself measured about 2 feet 3 inches by 9 inches. This box contained all of the relays, receiver, and a new anti-interference filter. The Sopwith “AT” was completed in 1916. It never flew because it was damaged while in a hangar and subsequently abandoned. Ironically, the end result of Sopwith’s effort was the creation of the Sopwith Sparrow which was a manned small single-seat scout aircraft. This in turn led to the development of the famous Sopwith Pup and later the Sopwith Camel, both of which went on to be highly successful manned aircraft types. The Ruston Proctor “AT”, designed by Henry Folland and Geoffrey De Havilland, was completed and did go on to complete flight trials. A demonstration flight was made in front of many Allied generals on March 21, 1917 at the Central Flying School at Upavon. The aircraft was launched from the back of a lorry (truck) using compressed air (another first). Low and his team successfully demonstrated their ability to control the aircraft before engine failure led to its crash landing – apparently, “uncomfortably close” to the generals! Further trials with the Proctor “AT” were made at Northolt in July 1917.

Coleman

The Sopwith “AT” after it was damaged.

Coleman

The Sopwith Sparrow was a spin-off of the “AT” project. Somewhat coarse maneuvers were effected by full application of the otherwise fixed rudder and elevator in response to radio signals and by throttle adjustment. This series of trials was unsuccessful and the Proctor “AT” never attained full production before the end of World War I. Geoffrey De Havilland, who set up his own company in September 1920, would build upon the experience he gained some 13 years later in his very own remotely piloted aircraft program (more of which to follow). Low's inventions during the war were before their time and their potential was possibly under appreciated by the British armed forces of the day, although the Germans appeared to be well aware of how dangerous his inventions might be. In 1915 two attempts were supposedly made to assassinate Low. The first involved shots being fired through his laboratory window in Paul Street; the second attempt was from a visitor with a German accent who came to his office and offered him a cigarette which, upon analysis, contained enough strychnine chloride to kill. Low continued his passion for invention throughout his life and later became a professor. In 1920 interest returned in remotely piloted aircraft, and research was directed towards three projects: 1. The “ammunition carrier” — a gyroscopically controlled aircraft capable of flying on a steady course at a constant speed for a given distance. 2. The “aerial target” —an inherently stable aircraft with a 20-mile range for gunnery target duties. 3. The “aerial torpedo”—to be dropped from

Summer 2011 • Friends Journal

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2011 Summer Friends Journal Sampler  

The Friends Journal is the quarterly publication of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. (AFMF), and is a member benefit. If you are intere...

2011 Summer Friends Journal Sampler  

The Friends Journal is the quarterly publication of the Air Force Museum Foundation, Inc. (AFMF), and is a member benefit. If you are intere...

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