In the 1940s, Drones Were Just Something for Navy Gunners to Shoot At

Say hello to the Katydid, one of the first UAVs.

The U.S. Navy donated this KDH-1 variant drone to the National Air and Space Museum in 1966. It is on view today at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in northern Virginia. (Dane Penland / NASM)
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Radio-controlled, gyro-stabilized, and powered by an externally mounted, gasoline-powered pulsejet engine, which used a design similar to the German V-1 rocket to deliver 55 pounds of thrust, the “Katydid” was one of the most sophisticated UAVs of the mid- to late 1940s. Recognizable by its distinct V-tail, the 320-pound drone could be launched via an AT-1 catapult or released from the bomb rack of a PBY-4 Catalina, at which point gunners would attempt to draw a bead on it.

Hitting the target wasn’t easy and wasn’t meant to be. With a wingspan of 12.5 feet, the Katydid could fly for up to 40 minutes at a top speed of 175 miles per hour. Whenever possible, salvage crews recovered the felled drone so it could be shot down again.

McDonnell Aircraft gave the Katydid, intially christened XTD2D-1, various designations throughout its development. Though its first flight was in 1942, the Katydid was deployed too late to act as a stand-in for Messerschmitts or Zeros. Production models did not become available until 1946.

McDonnell retained Katydid’s V-wing for its Kingfisher line of jet-powered anti-ship missiles developed during the 1950s.

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