IAN MCCLOSKEY HAS WORKED ON dozens of kinds of aircraft, but when he first saw the Bat, he wasn't sure how to proceed. It clearly needed reparis, but he had never seen anything like the old glider. "There was a lot of standing back and head-scratching," say McCloskey, manager of the aviation maintenance program at Frederick Community College in Frederick, Maryland.
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The Bat was worth restoring, though, as it is one of very few examples surviving (another is at the National Air and Space Museum). Officially designated the ASM-N-2, the Bat dates back to World War II. It was designed to be carried aloft by PB4Y-2 Privateer patrol bombers and other naval aircraft and released at 15,000 to 25,000 feet. Once launched, it would bear its cargo—a 1,000-pound "general purpose" bomb—toward an unlucky target.
The Bat was the United States' first fully automatic guided missile used operationally. Though it was not rocket-propelled, it is considered a guided missile because it used a radar guidance system. The Bat had an early S-band radar homing device, which was linked to the craft's autopilot servo motors. These in turn were linked to elevons, control surfaces on the wings that functioned as both ailerons and elevators, steering the missile to its target. (The radar system called to mind the way bats use sonar for navigating, hence the missile's nickname.)
The Bat was developed through a collaboration between the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Bell Labs, and the National Bureau of Standards, with the bureau overseeing the entire program.
The missiles were retired in 1953. In the 1960s, the Navy transferred a Bat to the National Bureau of Standards. The bureau (later renamed the National Institute of Standards and Technology) stored it in a warehouse on its campus in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
In subsequent years, several NIST employees, chief among them Reeves Tilley, argued that the Bat should be brought out and displayed, along with the other artifacts, to document the bureau's contributions during World War II. NIST historian Lisa Greenhouse and information services director Mary-Deirdre Coraggio decided to go to the warehouse to check on the Bat. Unfortunately, the missile was in pieces, and the pieces needed restoration.
As it happened, Coraggio's husband, aerospace engineer Mike Coraggio, had recently graduated from the aircraft maintenance program Ian McCloskey runs in Frederick. He contacted McCloskey to see if he'd like to work on the Bat with his students. McCloskey agreed.
McCloskey, Coraggio, and students Jason Garver and Tom Judkins did most of the work, with help from staffers at Frederick Community College. The restorers started by disassembling, cleaning, and sanding the whole vehicle. Later, they used fiberglass to patch holes in the Bat's plywood skin. The restoration was limited to the Bat's exterior, as the missile had been shipped to the National Bureau of Standards without its internal components. To keep it balanced for display, the team filled its nose with metal plates.
As they worked, the restorers became increasingly impressed with the Bat's construction. "To put that kind of quality workmanship into something you know is going to get destroyed speaks to the work ethic and mentality of the time," Mike Coraggio says.
The Bat was installed in the NIST museum last March. These days, visitors should find new relevance in the old missile, as it is the forebear of the Joint Standoff Weapon, a GPS-guided "smart bomb" that the United States has been using in Afghanistan.
The museum display includes an early 1950s Navy film showing what is probably a training exercise in which one of the missiles is launched at a barge. At 12 feet in length and 10 feet from wingtip to wingtip, it looks like a toy, especially compared to the nearby mothership. But as it swoops down, it brings to mind a hawk diving on prey, an impression of lethality reinforced when the Bat explodes on the barge.