Very early Teledyne Ryan UAVs


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4 May 2008
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I am reading Volume 15 of International Air Power Review. There is a two part article on the history of HALE/MALE. They mention in passing a Model 136 developped under the name 'Red Wagon', which competed with a Boeing 'Blue Scooter' shortly after Powers was shot down, so in 1960.
Red wagon did not proceed and was superseded by 'Lucy Lee' (or L2). Both had long, straight wings, inward canted H-Tails and dorsal engines. Compass Arrow shared those characteristics, but i think it was a later (1966) different program (plus it had swept wings). Does anyone have pictures of Red Wagon, Blue Scooter, or Lucy lee?
From 'Lightning Bugs and other reconnaissance drones', William Wagner, AFJ/Aero publications.

sorry, but there's no image of 'Blue Scooter'

This is THE book to have, if you want to know about Teledyne Ryan UAVs, up to the mid 1970s.



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Thanks for the reference. I think someone at work has a copy I can steal :)
Thanks for the reference. I think someone at work has a copy I can steal

if you do, then keep it! it took eighteen months to get mine!, i think it's quite rare, now, ;)

Excellent book. Quite amazing what they achieved with those early drones. I'd heartily recommend it.
rickshaw said:
Excellent book. Quite amazing what they achieved with those early drones.

there is a picture of a Firebee flying under power lines in Vietnam!
AeroFranz said:
rickshaw said:
Excellent book. Quite amazing what they achieved with those early drones.

there is a picture of a Firebee flying under power lines in Vietnam!

I thought the story of the Firebee over the ridge in North Vietnam was particularly impressive. IIRC just cleared the top of the ridge, capturing the upturned faces of North Vietnamese as they watch this aerobatic manoeuvre overhead.
IIRC, in one mission the waypoint altitude was entered incorrectly, resulting in MUCH lower altitude than planned. Maybe that's the one you are referring to.
Watching the drone tearing through the sky at extremely low altitude like a bat out of hell must have been an amazing sight.
That may be it. Its been about 10 years since I read my copy. I've often wondered why the US apparently abandoned this very successful technology after Vietnam.
from the article I was reading (Bill Sweetman, International air power review vol.15):

In 1975, the USAF was experimenting with UAVs armed with precision weapons, penetrating jammers and other advanced systems. But the Firebee-based systems were expensive to operate, non-combat losses were high, and Compass Arrow had cost a daunting $1B to little effect. IN 1976, too, the UAVs were transferred from SAC to TAC - putting them in competition for money and resources with fighters.
furthermore Sweetman says the emergence of KH-11 satellites, which could downlink images in real time, and the uncertainty on WHERE the RPVs were taking pictures (INS navigation was not very precise) weighed against them. In the ELINT role, The U-2 was competing for the funds, and it arguably could carry more and generate more power for the sensors.
It wasn't until GPS navigation and satellite links that UAVs' fortunes started taking off.
For those w/an interest in Ryan Teledyne UAVs, there is also a follow-on volume published in 1992 -- no further discussion of Red Wagon, etc., but some good add'l info on Compass Arrow and later recce drones.
hmmm. Perhaps my .jpg image is too large?


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Thanks for the reference, Clioman!
The cover page makes it sound like it's an all new book, not a simple update/enlarged version of the previous book. Is that the case?
It is an all new book, it recaps what's in 'Lightning Bugs', then takes the story onwards through the 70's and 80's, finishing up in the early 90's with the BQM-145 project. Consider it a volume 2 to 'Lightning Bugs' volume 1.

San Diego Air and Space Museum just posted a ton of high quality photos at Flickr.

Included among them are a few de-classified AQM-91A Compass Arrow photos. The photos apparently depict some kind of crash (or perhaps parachute landing in an unintended location?) of one of the aircraft, with it resting upon a road.

Unfortunately, I am having some difficulty embedding the photos, but in case that doesn't work, I have also posted the links. Again, much larger versions of these photos are available at the links provided.

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According to 'Fireflies', pp.53-4,(See above) the 4th production Model 154 Firefly suffered
a malfunction during a test flight, necessitating an emergency abort and recovery.
It landed at Los Alamos, of all places! The building in the picture is apparently part of the
plutonium production plant.
Eventually the thing was recovered and returned to Holloman AFB by the following day,
but not before local news crews had got plenty of pictures...

I highly recommend both books. Lots of unusual variants discussed. And of course the story of "TomCat", a Firebee that completed 68(!) successful missions before being lost in action.

I'm not sure how to add a picture, but there is a picture of TomCat most of the way down this page:
More great stuff from the San Diego Air & Space Museum archives on YouTube. Various drone footage, predominantly Firebees, but at the 11 minute 50 second mark, footage of the Ryan AQM-91A Compass Arrow on the wing of the DC-130 and being launched/dropped from the DC-130. The sequence runs for about 4 minutes in slow motion.

In addition, others here would be better identify the other drones being tested, but they do appear to be armed and recon versions of the line of Ryan "target" drones.

Also of interest is some footage that begins at the 11 minute 5 second mark. It is interesting because, to my eyes, it shows test footage of a firebee, but unlike all the other footage, this has some faint and distorted (slowed down?) verbal commentary playing over it. The best I could make out was audio describing the drone as an "AQM-147G" (Lightning Bug, presumably). There may be those here who have the ability to process the audio into some sort of decipherable form.
The Ryan Model 147 series comprised many RPV types. The 147G variant was an update of the 147B Lightning Bug with stretched fuselage, a no-contrail system and a new, larger engine. Like several other 147 sub-types, it never carried an AQM-34 designation, while others did.
Among the latest San Diego Air & Space Museum (SDASM) postings on YouTube is this one which, for the first 40 seconds, shows black and white footage of a long-winged Ryan 147 variant making simulated aerial refueling approaches on a (simulated?) trailing hose and drogue. The film is then spliced with additional color footage of a BAe 125 ( Hawker Siddeley HS.125) making what appears to be similar aerial refueling approaches - albeit without a hose and drogue trailing from the camera aircraft. Presumably, this is related to efforts by Ryan to extend the range of their recce UAVs.
YouTube - SDASM "F 2809 Ryan Aeronautical Aerial Refueling"
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