By Henry Sakaida

The Interstate TDR was nothing more than a bomb carrying radio-controlled model airplane piloted by remote control from a mother aircraft. This was America’s first “Kamikaze” aircraft minus the pilot! It had a television camera mounted on the nose which the operator in the mother aircraft could use to guide the flying bomb.

interstate tdr

The TDR could be flown by a pilot, or the cockpit could be covered over for combat. Today’s guided missiles came out of the TDR program.

The idea for a remote-controlled drone aircraft was proposed to the US Navy in 1936. It was a novel idea but due to the technology at the time, the drone program was put on the backburner. It wasn’t until the development of a television system that the idea began to be explored indepth.

In the summer of 1943, the US Navy established Special Air Group One to take the TDR into combat. Beginning in September 1944, STAG-1 conducted air attacks against the Japanese at Bouganville, followed by Rabaul. It was guided to the target by a TBM Avenger. The operator had a small television screen in his compartment and would sight the target using the TV camera in the nose of the TDR. The screen had a crude crosshair image for sighting purposes.

While writing my book Siege of Rabaul back in the early 1990s, I established correspondence with a former Japanese naval officer who was stationed at Rabaul. His name was Cdr Tomoyoshi Hori, an experienced seaplane pilot. It was he who asked if I knew anything about a small American pilotless drone which harassed them at Rabaul!

interstate tdr

Cdr Tomoyoshi Hori at Rabaul, New Guinea 1944

Hori himself was very familiar with drones since the Japanese Navy was also experimenting with radio-controlled planes for fleet gunnery practice. He was involved in their development as a test pilot. He stated: “Due to my experience, when I saw the first TDR attack at Rabaul, at once I could understand what it was. I remember that I saw its attack at Rabaul about seven or eight times. Each time, our forces suffered lightly and we didn’t feel any sense of danger.”

“Our headquarters gathered the wreck of the TDR,” continued Hori. “We investigated it. I selected the important parts from the wreckage. These parts were sent to Japan on November 8, 1944 by Gekko (twin-engined recon plane), but the plane went missing on the way to Truk.”

A total of 42 TDR attacks were launched against targets at Rabaul and Bougainville. The results were underwhelming. Strong radio interference en route to the target by friendly forces caused some TDRs to fly erratically and miss their targets. The official US Navy report concluded that the TDRs were less accurate and effective than regular bombing methods. The secret program was shut down on October 27, 1944.

Sadly, very few people know the history of the Interstate TDR and STAG-1. The drones and guided missiles of today are the linear descendants of the TDR. The men who worked on the secret program were the unrecognized pioneers who helped our nation become the #1 military super power it is today.

interstate tdr

interstate tdr

Robert Jones was one of the early pioneers of the TDR project who took the drone into combat.

interstate tdr

interstate tdr

interstate tdr

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