Aviation Historian 41
B.Cahill - Ghost Fortresses of the Apocalypse (1)
With the 58th Bomb Wing’s distinctive “mushroom cloud” insignia prominent on the forward fuselage, B-17G serial 44-85818 was one of five drone-directors used for Operation Crossroads in the Marshall Islands in mid-1946. By the time this photo was taken in January 1947, the aircraft had joined the 1st Experimental Guided Missiles Group (EGMG).
Early-configuration drone-control equipment in the nose of a B-17 director. The scope hood covered the TV relay of the drone’s instrument panel, while the simple box below it controlled the drone.
Specially constructed filters for the air-sampling drones were fitted in place of the original dorsal turret. This is a “first generation” example, as used in Crossroads and Sandstone.
A quartet of drone B-17s in flight between Clovis Field and Roswell Army Air Field in New Mexico on April 15, 1946. Drone and director training was undertaken from Clovis Field, while Roswell was selected as the centre for final preparations for Crossroads. The Boeing B-29s of the 509th Composite Group were also based at Roswell
Drone-director B-17 serial 44-85738 departs Stickell Field on Enewetak on April 25, 1946, during Operation Crossroads. The director aircraft had large roman numerals applied to their fins and were not given the yellow empennages of the drones. This aircraft later went on to have a long post-USAAF career, serving with TWA, the Iranian government and France’s Institut Geographique National.
B-17 drone 44-85819 at Muroc Army Airfield (to become Edwards Air Force Base in 1950) in California, with a director B-17 parked alongside. This aircraft was one of two drones flown by means of remote control from a director from Hilo, Hawaii, to Muroc in August 1946, following the conclusion of Operation Crossroads.
A drone B-17 on approach to land at Muroc. The control jeep in the foreground was used in Operation Remote for the take-off in Hawaii, then flown to California for the landing.
Two airmen perform a decontamination washdown of a drone B-17 during Operation Sandstone in the spring of 1948. Decontamination started after all samples had been removed (note the filter carrier missing from the nose). The name Carolyn, along with the 1st EGMG’s insignia, have been applied to the drone’s forward fuselage.
Redesignated as a DB-17 for Operation Sandstone, a drone-director comes in to land at Eglin AFB in Florida on August 11, 1950. The director aircraft would escort the drone all the way to touchdown before circling back to complete its own landing. The radio control jeep, having completed its work, prepares to leave the runway.
Removal of the upper air-filter carrier after a Sandstone mission. The sequence was more mechanised than that used in Crossroads, an extended-boom forklift vice manually pulling lanyards to make the carrier fall to the ground. The drones retained their yellow empennages, but the stripes were replaced with Arabic numerals.
The B-17 drones used in Operation Sandstone added a second air-filter carrier beneath the nose. Note the 1st EGMG’s motif on the nose.
What would modern health and safety make of it? Members of groundcrew pull the air-sample bag from the bomb bay of a drone B-17 with long ropes after Crossroads’ Able shot on July 1, 1946. Note the air filter atop the forward fuselage of the drone. None of the groundcrew are wearing protective clothing, despite the drone having just flown through the cloud of a 23-kiloton-yield atomic explosion.
The instrument panel of a drone B-17 showing the various levers and mechanisms fitted to support remote flight operations.
A drone pilot simulates controlling a drone from one of the director B-17s used in Operation Crossroads in 1946.
Five drone B-17s await their next flights, probably during pre-Crossroads training while en route to the Pacific. The Crossroads drones had yellow-painted tail sections, individual aircraft bearing one to four horizontal stripes on the fin and the same number of stripes painted around the fuselage aft of the wing trailing edge.