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The Bug

This article appeared in NCR World September-October 1970

The Bug

The Germans battered England with their buzz Bombs..

Only a handful of persons knew that this was not really a new weapon.


     The “Bug” story is fascinating.  It’s the story of the world’s first pilotless aircraft, buzz bomb, guided missile—call it what you will.

     But, the “Bug” was the first.  It was developed by the famous inventor-engineer, Charles F. Kettering  at the request of the Army Signal Corps in 1917.

     Almost thirty years later, in 1944, the Germans battered England with their V-1 rockets or buzz bombs.  Only a handful of persons in the U. S. knew that this really was not a new type of weapon.  The “Bug” had been built in Dayton and readied for use but the Armistice in 1918 shelved it.


At South Field


     Under Mr. Kettering’s direction, experimental and testing work on the “Bug” was done at South Field, west of NCR’s Moraine Farm.

     The summer in 1917 Col. Deeds, William C. Chryst, Thomas Midgley and John Sheats along with Orville Wright, famous Indianapolis 500 racer Ralph DePalma, and a host of others perfected the “Bug.”

     In his book, “Global Mission,” General H. H. (Hap) Arnold said:

     “It was a complete little airplane built of papier-mache and reinforced with wooden members, its smooth cardboard wing surfaces spreading lass than 12 feet.


Ford Built Engine


     “Its fuselage held 300 pounds of explosives and it weighed, unloaded, 300 pounds itself.  It took off from a small four-wheeled carriage which rolled down a portable track, its own little two-cycle 40 h.p. engine, built by Henry Ford, meeting the requirements for both pressure and vacuum necessary to operate the automatic controls.

     “The actuating force for the controls was secured from bellows removed from player pianos.  They rotated cranks, which in turn operated the elevators of the rudder.  The direction of the flight was insured by a small gyro, elevation from a small supersensitive aneroid barometer, so sensitive that moving it from the top of a desk to the floor operated the controls.

     “This kept the ‘Bug’ at its proper altitude.

     “At first we relied only on the dihedral of the wings for lateral stability, but later, more positive directional controls had to be installed with orthodox ailerons.

     “Including the $50 gasoline engine built by Henry Ford, the entire device cost about $400.”

     General Arnold said that to launch the “Bug,” tracks were pointed toward the objective.  The distance to the target, and wind direction and intensity, were figured out as accurately as possible.


     “Like A Jack Rabbit’s Ears”


     The number of revolutions of the engine required to take the “Bug” to the target was then figured, and a cam set.  Then, when the engine had turned exactly that proper number of revolutions, the cam fell into position, the two bolts holding on the wings folded up, “like a jack rabbit’s ears,” and the “bug” plunged to earth as a bomb.

     First tests of the “Bug” were highly successful and it was decided to give a demonstration to top Washington brass.  In order to assure that everything went right, it also was decided to put only a small amount of gasoline in the tank—only enough to allow the “Bug” to leave the track and make a straightaway flight of two or three hundred yards at most.

     General Arnold said, “Unfortunately, not even Kettering realized how little gasoline the ‘Bug’ needed to operate.  After a balky start before the distinguished assemblage, it took off abruptly, but instead of maintaining horizontal flight, it started to climb.  At about 600 to 800 feet, as if possessed by the devil, it turned over, made Immelmann turns, and seeming to spot the group of brass hats below dived on them, scattering them in all directions.  This was repeated several times before the ‘Bug’ finally crashed without casualties.”


A Second Show


     A second show was set up after Mr. Kettering had put ailerons with proper controls on the “Bug.”

     This time it was planned for it to fly at 50 miles per hour and the dignitaries were loaded into automobiles in order to give chase and be present when it crashed.

     Again it got away and instead of flying straight, it made a circle around the city of Dayton.  The real fear was that word might be leaked to the enemy.

     Thus chase was made and finally it was found south of Xenia near New Burlington.

     General Arnold concluded, “In the vicinity where we thought we had seen it come down, we came upon some excited farmers.  ‘Did you see an airplane crash around here?” we asked.  One farmer said, ‘Right over there!  But strange thing, there’s no trace of the pilot?”

     “Colonel B. J. Arnold, the Army officer in charge of the project, remembered quickly we had a flying officer in a leather coat and goggles in the car.


“Here’s The Pilot”


     “Here’s the pilot, ‘ he said.  ‘He jumped out in his parachute back a piece.  Let’s go pick up that wreck.’

     “Our secret was secure.  The awed farmers didn’t know that the U. S. Air Corps had no parachutes yet.”

     At the start of World War II, General Arnold relates that serious consideration was given to re-activating an improved “Bug.”  At a meeting that included General Arnold, Mr. Kettering and William Knudsen, it was decided that key targets  in Germany could not be reached by even an improved “Bug” from England.


Fifty “Bugs” Produced


     A total of fifty “Bugs” were produced by the end of World War I.  The units were sent to Arcadia Field, Florida, where they were fired with varying success by the Army.

     Overall the government had ordered 20,000 of them.  Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology were trained to launch them.

     Many persons, even close relatives of those who worked on the “Bug” project were unaware of it, until a replica was installed in the Air Force Museum at Wright–Patterson Air Force Base years later.