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July 30, 1957 – The First Pilotless Helicopter Flight

Posted July 30, 2008 12:05 AM by Steve Melito

On this day in engineering history, a modified Kaman HTK made the first pilotless helicopter flight. Built by Kaman Aerospace of Bloomfield, Connecticut, the K-240 HTK-1K was a remotely-controlled drone helicopter that some aviation historians consider to be the world's first unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Built at a cost of $37,684 (USD), the Kaman HTK-1K was 14 ft. high and 38 ft. long with a rotor diameter of almost 40 ft. Powered by a single, 450-hp Lycoming engine, the military helicopter carried 38 gallons of fuel and could achieve a top speed of 72 mph. Previous versions of the Kaman HTK had been used as both training helicopters and ambulance helicopters, achieving a hover ceiling of 6,150 ft. and a range of 145 miles at 1500 ft.

Drones and DASH

The success of the K-240 HTK-1K was the latest in a series of tests that were designed to demonstrate the capabilities of drone helicopters. On May 3, 1957, a Kaman HTK-1 with only a safety pilot aboard operated near Narragansett Bay, Massachusetts from the fantail of the USS Mitscher (DL-2). Earlier that year, a piloted HUL-1 built by Bell Helicopter had ferried homing torpedoes to and from the Mitscher near Key West, Florida, demonstrating the feasibility of assigning torpedo-carrying drones to naval destroyers. Ultimately, the success of these tests led to the development of the U.S. Navy's Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter (DASH) program, a response to a rapidly-increasing Soviet submarine force.

The Gyrodyne QH-50C

Although Kaman Aircraft and Bell Helicopter were early entrants into the competition to build unmanned helicopters, the Gyrodyne Company of St. James, Long Island won the contract for DASH in December 1958. During the 1960s, the Gyrodyne QH-50C was deployed aboard U.S. Navy destroyers for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) exercises. Tied down with a quick-release connection cable, the QH-50C used separate "umbilical cords" for engine and gyroscope start-up.

After the Boeing T50-BO-8 turbine engine warmed up, an operator at a deck-level control station manipulated an altitude wheel, heading knob, and cyclic stick. When the controller released the hold-down cable, the drone helicopter climbed to the specified altitude and flew toward its pre-selected heading. After the homing torpedoes were released, the drone was then flown back to the ship.

Resources:

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/h-22-specs.htm

http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:RnM9z4VCwNQJ:www.history.navy.mil/avh-1910/PART08.PDF+kaman+htk+july+30,+1957&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=14&gl=us&client=firefox-a

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/h-22-specs.htm

http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/aircraft/h-22.htm

http://www.helicoptermuseum.org/AircraftDetails.asp?helicopterID=21

http://www.gyrodynehelicopters.com/dash_history.htm

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Guru
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#1

Re: July 30, 1957 – The First Pilotless Helicopter Flight

07/31/2008 10:19 AM

Fascinating article - thanks, Moose. I don't know what it is about Cold War technology, but I find it to be very interesting. Even more incredible is that in 1957 you could build something like this for under $40,000!

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#2
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Re: July 30, 1957 – The First Pilotless Helicopter Flight

07/31/2008 12:16 PM

Thanks for your comment, Sharkles. A buddy of mine served aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer during the 1960s. When I told him about this story, he remembered having a few of these drone helicopters aboard ship. Apparently, they could be equipped with nukes, too. Fascinating stuff for those of us who like weaponology.

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#3

Re: July 30, 1957 – The First Pilotless Helicopter Flight

08/08/2008 11:59 AM

Interesting, however, a couple of Ercoupes were used as remote control drones in the 40's. One reportedly had to be shot down over Long Island Sound as it had stopped responding to commands. This would pre-date in term of Unmanned aerial vehicule.

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