Today's multi-billion dollar UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) and drone industry held some rather modest roots in early forays centered on the world of unmanned flight. Indeed, the United States military's first quantitative UAV became the Radioplane OQ-2. The compact aircraft appeared in 1939 - just prior to World War 2 (1939-1945), and was built in approximately 15,000 units to serve under the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) flag. Some were also purchased by the United States Navy (USN).
Radioplane produced the prototype RP-1 ("Radioplane Model 1") to showcase to the United States Army in 1935, the intent to sell the aircraft as a training tool for anti-aircraft gunners. Such specialists were required to hit a moving target several miles up with cannon fire and it seemed an adequate thought that having a remote-piloted aircraft in training would make for more accurate gunners on the ground. In 1938 came the RP-2 company model, a much improved product the company purchased from Walter Righter. This design then evolved as the RP-3 and RP-4 under the Army's direction.
It was the final RP-4 form that the Army elected to purchase in number under the OQ-1 designation, formally bringing along the first model of American UAV. Some 53 of the type were eventually ordered. Following this was the RP-5 company model which was also accepted into Army Air service and US Navy as the OQ-2 (US Navy TDD-1).
The OQ-2 utilized a conventional aircraft arrangement with a high-mounted, straight monoplane wing assembly sat upon a boxy, slab-sided fuselage. The tail unit incorporated a single vertical fin with low-set horizontal planes. The wheeled undercarriage was fixed and of the "tail-dragger" configuration with the main legs showcasing small landing wheels (this undercarriage was only seen on early batch forms - otherwise all were landed via a parachute arrangement including the U.S. Navy batch). At the nose of the design was a Righter O-15-1 model two-cylinder, two-cycle engine developing the needed six horsepower output. This provided the aircraft with a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour with an endurance time of roughly one hour. Bendix manufactured the required RC control system. Overall length was 8 feet, 8 inches with a wingspan of 12 feet, 3 inches and gross weight of 105lbs.
The OQ-2 served as the basis for many other related UAV marks which ended with the OQ-14. The Radioplane name would last until 1952 to which defense powerhouse Northrop purchased the company and inherited its assets.
As an aside, Radioplane was born as Reginald Denny Industries, a company formulated by ex-British World War 1 airman (and aspiring actor) Reginald Denny who emigrated to the United States during the inter-war period in search of acting jobs in Hollywood. Along with collaborators, Denny opened the Reginald Denny Hobby Shop in Hollywood and this then became the Radioplane Company which marketed the OQ-2.
8.69 ft (2.65 m)
12.24 ft (3.73 m)
110 lb (50 kg)
997 feet (304 m; 0.19 miles)
62 miles (100 km; 54 nm)
RP-1 - Initial company model of 1935
RP-2 - Company model of 1938
RP-3 - Modified RP-2 of 1939
RP-4 - Modified RP-3 of 1939
RP-5 - Company model of 1941
OQ-1 - Initial production version for US Army; 53 units produced.
OQ-2 - Definitive production version based on RP-5 model; nearly 15,000 units produced.
OQ-3 - Improved variant evolved from OQ-2
OQ-14 - Improved variant
TDD-1 - USN designation for OQ-2
TDD-2 - USN designation for OQ-3
TDD-3 - USN designation for OQ-14