History Series: The Kettering Bug

Drone technology piqued the interest of many militaries after witnessing the devastating effects and impracticality of trench warfare in World War I. This led to the development of the Kettering Bug, an experimental unmanned torpedo that was able to travel at 80 km/h. The torpedo was an airplane with explosives on-board, similar to the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target vehicle. It was launched from a four-wheeled dolly that ran down a portable track, and it used a gyroscope to guide the aircraft to its predetermined destination. The Bug’s control system used a pneumatic/vacuum system, an electric system and an aneroid barometer/altimeter. It was engineered to shut off its engine after a pre-set amount of time, presumably over the desired destination. Upon engine shutdown, a mechanism would release the wings and the vehicle would plunge towards the earth and detonate on impact.

The Bugs were built by the Dayton-Wright Airplane co. but despite several successful test flights, they were never used in war because officials worried about their reliability when carrying explosives over Allied troops. After World War II, the National Museum of the United States Air Force built a full size replica of the Kettering Bug to put on display.


Sarah Baig

Marketing Coordinator

February 15, 2022